NFL Draft Rules & Regulations


The National Football League draft is held each April to allow NFL teams to select players for their rosters. There are comprehensive rules that govern which players are eligible for the NFL draft. There are also rules that determine the order in which teams are allowed to choose players as well as how long teams have to make their selection. The NFL draft rules ensure that each team has a fair chance to choose players that they feel can help them improve their clubs.

Order of Draft

  • A teams' record in the previous regular season goes a long way in determining the order in which they will select players in the next year's draft. The team with the worst record will choose first while the team that won the Super Bowl will pick last. The Super Bowl loser gets the next-to-last choice. The rest of the team's draft order is determined by their records, with the teams that have the worst records choosing before franchises with better won-loss marks. Teams that have finished the prior regular season with identical records have this tie broken in a number of ways to figure out where they will pick. Those teams that did not make the playoffs will pick before teams with the same record that did. Teams that were in the playoffs will have their choice decided by the order in which they were eliminated from the post-season. Any remaining ties are broken by what is known as "strength of schedule." A team's opponents' combined records are calculated to find this figure, with teams that had a lower strength of schedule getting a higher pick in the NFL draft.

Later Round Order

  • When the order of the draft's initial round has been set, then it is maintained throughout the draft with the exception of the teams that did finish with the same records. These clubs will switch their order in the later rounds. For example, if Team A picks in the first round right before teams B, C, and D then in the second round these clubs will be in the order of Team B, C, D and then A. This cycle repeats itself throughout the draft, which lasts a total of seven rounds.


  • Players are eligible for the NFL draft by rule when they have been out of high school for at least three years. The vast majority of players selected have played in college and most play until their senior years. But if a player is a junior and has been out of high school for the three years, then they have until Jan. 15 to declare themselves eligible to be drafted. Sometimes players that have competed in other pro leagues can be drafted if they fulfill these eligibility requirements. NFL rules state that a player that is drafted but does not wish to sign with the team that selected him can decide to "hold out" for a year and then be eligible to re-enter the draft the next year.

Time Frame

  • During the NFL draft's first round, the regulations dictate that a team has 10 minutes to make its selection. During the second round the time is sliced to seven minutes while the final five rounds see the selection time cut to five minutes for each pick. The last five rounds of the NFL draft usually take place a day after the first two rounds. If a team fails to announce its choice in the allotted time, then the next team can choose if it is ready, with the team that was late then being allowed to select a player.

Compensatory Draft Picks

  • The term "compensatory picks" is used to describe extra picks that teams are awarded at the ends of rounds three through seven in the NFL draft. The rules state that a team that loses more free agents than it signs will be given one of these compensatory picks. Where these picks are placed in regards to which round of the draft they can be made during is based on a complex formula. Teams that lose and then sign an equal amount of players but suffer the loss of higher valued players than the ones that they had the ability to sign will receive one of these picks, but these choices will always come in the last round of the draft. Compensatory picks are determined in March at the NFL meetings, which take place approximately one month before the draft.

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