How Does the NFL Draft Work?

Ever wonder what rules apply for the NFL Draft? Here's a complete look, including why it's seven rounds and how much time is in each round.

The NFL Draft has evolved into a major April sporting spectacle over the years.

Fans of the NFL become intrigued by who the new players for their teams will be. There are even fans who now take in all three days of the event by attending each draft day. But as this year’s draft draws near, will the past format stay the same? Here’s a closer look at how the 2024 version will work.

Explaining the 7-Round Format of the NFL Draft

The league placed the draft in April because it represents the halfway point of the offseason.

The draft first began as a nine-round session in 1936 before expanding to 10 the following year. Then, during the 1940s, the league allowed as many as 32 rounds.

But in 1994, the league opted to cut the rounds to seven — and this year marks the 30th year of the seven-round format. The motivation behind the change involved unrestricted free agency and the birth of the salary cap.

MORE: List of No. 1 Overall Picks in NFL Draft History

Every NFL team can participate in all rounds. However, some franchises may not have a selection in the first round, or even in the middle and late rounds, if trades were made.

Some franchises, like the Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings, and Chicago Bears, hold an extra first-round selection for the 2024 NFL Draft. Again, all three teams made a trade deal with another franchise to earn the extra pick.

There will be 257 picks between Rounds 1-7, starting Thursday, April 25, 2024.

Is Every NFL Franchise Present at the Site of the Draft?

All 32 franchises will have a representative present in Detroit, the host city of the 2024 event. They will help occupy Hart Plaza in the downtown area.

Each team will have an executive from their front office as representation. Regardless of whether they are a general manager, director of player personnel, or a scout, that representative will be in contact with the team’s draft headquarters to determine who to select.

This setup additionally helps persuade teams to accept draft trade offers. Teams can choose to move up from their spot or down at any round of the session. Every NFL franchise can even include picks in next season’s draft or the year after in their trade proposals.

As for the personnel not present at the site of the draft, those front office executives and coaching staff set themselves up at a remote location or inside their facility to work the draft. One example is the Los Angeles Rams, who held previous draft sites in Malibu, Hollywood Hills, and, last year, the San Fernando Valley.

There is no cap on how many trades a team can make during one draft weekend. However, every franchise becomes cognizant of how much draft capital they can surrender.

Has any team traded every pick before? The New Orleans Saints pulled this off in 1999 by dealing away all their available selections to land running back Ricky Williams at No. 5 overall.

What Is the Time Limit of Each Draft Pick?

This is where “on the clock” comes into play.

Every NFL team is given a 10-minute timeframe to make their choice during the first round. This is when the phone lines start ringing and working to ensure every franchise will make their pick on time.

Once a team solidifies its choice of who it wants, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell takes to the podium to announce the selection. The process repeats itself afterward, and the clock resets back to the 10-minute deadline for the next team.

The time limit, however, changes after the first round. During the Friday, April 26, 2024 session, every team will get seven minutes to take a player in the second round. In the third round, the time limit gets cut to five minutes. Then, on the draft’s final day of Saturday, April 27, 2024, Rounds 4-7 give each team four minutes to decide who they want to add via the draft.

What happens if a team doesn’t make a pick within the allotted time? That means either their selection was traded or the team waiting next gets their turn to draft with the opportunity to leapfrog their selection.

How Does the Draft Order Get Assigned?

Finally, we dive into how the draft order works. Last season’s standings help shape the format.

By rule, the defending Super Bowl champion picks last. The only time that franchise doesn’t select at No. 32 is if they pulled off a trade to ascend the board — or a pick was forfeited like in the 2023 NFL Draft. As for the team with the worst record, they earn the top overall pick of the draft.

However, this year’s class won’t see the 2-15 Carolina Panthers pick first. That’s because the NFC South franchise traded up to No. 1 in last year’s draft in a deal with the Chicago Bears, resulting in Bryce Young going first overall. By virtue of this move, the Bears now hold the first overall selection.

KEEP READING: Can an NFL Draft Pick Refuse To Sign Their Contract?

But how does the rest of the order work, especially for teams with identical records? The first 18 picks are reserved for the teams that didn’t qualify for the postseason. Selections are determined by their in-conference record, with the team having a worse NFC or AFC record — depending on which one they belong to — picking ahead of the one with a similar final regular season mark.

As for the remaining 14 picks, those are given to the playoff teams from a year ago. Their seedings are determined by how deep their playoff run was. The teams eliminated from the first round of the postseason earn Picks 19-24. Selections 25-28 are for the teams knocked out of the Divisional Round.

Finally, Picks 29-32 are for the teams that played for the conference title. In the case of the Super Bowl runner-up, they get the next-to-last selection of the first round.

Miss football? The 2024 NFL Draft is almost here, boss. Pro Football Network has you covered with everything from team draft needs to the Top 100 prospects available. Plus, fire up PFN’s all-new Mock Draft Simulator to put yourself in the general manager’s seat and make all the calls — lone wolf or with your friends!

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