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Every year, the NFL Draft takes place at the end of April. It features all 32 NFL teams picking from the cream of collegiate American Football players over seven rounds and across three days.

In this article, we are going to learn all about the NFL Draft. How it operates, how it is organised, where it is conducted and how NFL teams prepare for the Draft itself.

Finally, we will also look at some of the popular betting markets available on the draft each year. Starting with betting sites such as bet365 Sport.

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The British Approach To Youth Sport Vs The NFL Draft

For the British sports fan, the NFL Draft, or indeed any other form of draft in North American sports, remains something of an enigma.

It is something that does not happen in UK sports. Across most sports, young players are nurtured through youth levels of the game and then beyond by the same professional club.

Of course, the problem with this is that the richest teams can soak up all the talent. Thus, leaving the lesser teams, who used to rely on bringing through a gem of a player or two every few years for financial security, with a smaller and less talented set of youngsters to pick from.

Indeed, it is argued that the Premier League academy system, has effectively ruined the youth set up at clubs lower down the league pyramid. This is because the Premier League clubs have the money and resources to effectively snap up every half decent young player from anywhere in the country.

This then creates an imbalance where the top clubs have all the money and all the top young players. Many of whom then struggle to break into the first team at their club due to so many talented players being bought in from other clubs and abroad.

Football Player with a Blue uniform in front of lights

The US Model – Leading to the NFL Draft

In American sports, and specifically the NFL, the model is very different. Due to the fact the league is a franchise and a single entity with the interests of all 32 teams at heart, equality in terms of player acquisition is important.

This set up has been designed to ensure that each year, the poorest teams in the NFL get the chance to pick the best young prospects, before the better teams that year can pick from the players that remain.

  • Junior – High School – College – NFL Journey

In the United States, prospective NFL stars begin their journey playing Junior (sometimes called Little League) football before moving on to High School Football.

The best high school football stars then earn places at colleges and universities where they play college football. Then finally, the top college stars each year are drafted into the NFL.

This is why each year, the NFL Ranks all 32 teams based on their record and final finishing position. The team with the worst record in any given season are given the number 1 pick in the draft, with the team with the next poorest record being number 2 in the draft and so on, right up to the Super Bowl winners who will be handed the 32nd pick in each round of the draft.

Along with the salary cap, it is a much fairer and equitable system for all involved, certainly when compared to what happens in the UK in terms of how teams acquire young talent.

Let’s now explore some of the key facets of the NFL Draft.

How is the NFL Draft Structured?

The NFL Draft take place in late April each year across three days, from Thursday to Saturday, and is structured as follows: –

  • Thursday – NFL Draft 1st Round (Picks 1 to 32)
  • Friday – NFL Draft 2nd & 3rd Round (Picks 33 to 96 – plus compensatory picks)
  • Saturday – NFL Draft 4th, 5th, 6th & 7th Round (all remaining picks plus further compensatory picks)

Usually around 250-260 players are selected in an NFL Draft in total. The remaining unselected college players declared as eligible for the draft can then be signed as free agents by any team.

The last player selected in the draft is called Mr Irrelevant, generally because the assumption is they will not be in the NFL for very long. However, one player in recent times has disproven this – San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy.

What are Compensatory Picks?

Compensatory picks are 32 picks awarded to teams that have lost certain players, coaches or other key members of staff. Depending on the number and quality of personnel lost, compared with those they have brought in, the NFL will award 32 compensatory picks from Round 3 of the draft onwards.

All Compensatory picks are selected after the 32 picks for the current round. So any Round 3,4,5,6 or 7 compensatory picks would be from the 33rd pick onwards in the corresponding round of the draft.

Other compensatory picks can be awarded based on something called the 2020 Resolution JC-2A, but these are awarded separately to the 32 picks outlined above. 

No team is allowed more than 4 compensatory picks in any one NFL Draft.

Where Does the NFL Draft Take Place?

In the early years, the NFL Draft took place across just relatively few cities, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, Washington DC, Pittsburgh being the only cities to host the NFL draft up until 2018.

By then the NFL had decided that it was time to move the NFL Draft around the country and in 2018, it was held at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington Texas. Since then, it has also been held in Nashville, Cleveland, Las Vegas and Kansas City. The 2024 Draft will take place in Detroit, with the 2025 draft scheduled to take place at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell attends all three days and announces the picks, although in modern times, special guests for each of the 32 teams have announced the picks in some of the rounds of the draft.

Can Teams Lose or Gain NFL Draft Picks?

Yes, and they commonly do as part of a trade.

With transfer fees not allowed in the NFL, teams will trade players often for another player in return, but the deal may also be completed by offering another team draft picks to add value to the deal.

If Draft Picks can be likened to currency, then First Round Draft Picks are very high value, and they systematically decrease in value down to the 7th Round where they are worth considerably less.

However, the gap in value is more pronounced at the top of the draft, where the difference between the 1st pick and the 32nd pick is huge in terms of relative value. Whereas the difference between the 1st pick in the 7th Round and the 32nd pick in the 7th Round is very small.

For the very best players teams may offer one or even multiple first round picks over successive years to land the player. As the Carolina Panthers did in the 2023 NFL Draft when trading with the Chicago Bears for the number 1 pick last year, giving the Bears their first round pick in 2023 and also in 2024 (which just so happened to be the first pick in the 2024 NFL draft).

By clever trading and through compensatory picks, teams can often end up with considerably more (or fewer) than the seven draft picks they are initially allocated for any NFL Draft.

Occasionally, if a team commits a misdemeanour, then they can be penalised by having draft picks taken from them. This happened to the Miami Dolphins in 2022, who were penalised their 2023 first round pick and 2024 third round pick by the NFL for anti-tampering policy infractions.

How Important Is The NFL Draft For The 32 Teams?

Incredibly important. For the worst teams, it is a chance to improve quickly. For the best teams, it is a chance to solidify their position at the top of the game by making astute picks and trades to land the players that fill areas of need in their team. For teams in the middle of the draft, it’s a chance to do both these things.

All NFL Teams have their own NFL Draft ‘War Room” where they have a team of experts specifically designed to evaluate the players in the draft to ensure they pick the right players. They spend a fortune on scouting college players every year, not to mention watching 1000s of hours of tape, attending the NFL Combine and conducting interviews with draft prospects.

So outside of the actual games in the Regular Season and Post Season, the NFL Draft is the most important aspect of the NFL for teams each year.

Which Players Are Commonly Selected First in the NFL Draft?

Usually, it is either a quarterback, running back or defensive lineman that is taken first in an NFL Draft, with QB being by far the most common.

In the modern pass-heavy NFL, running backs are less and less likely to be taken first, with most teams devaluing the position over the years. However, defensive linemen have been the most popular pick if a QB is not taken first in the draft in recent years.

44 of the 88 players taken first in the draft have been QBs with 23 being RBs and 16 being defensive linemen.

What Are Common NFL Draft Betting Markets?

NFL Draft Bet365

As you might expect, seeing as it is such an important part of the season, the NFL Draft has plenty of betting markets available for punters to bet on.

Some of the most common bets you can find available at sites like bet365 Sport include:

  • Betting on who will be the Number 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 overall pick
  • Which team will draft a certain player in the draft.
  • Who will be the first player drafted at a certain position (QB, WR, Offensive Line, Defensive End or similar)
  • Who will be the first Non-QB selected.
  • Who will be the first defensive player selected

What is interesting about draft betting is that these markets can change wildly in the run up to a draft as rumours start to be heard about certain teams making moves in the market to sign a certain player. This can see longer odds players see their odds on being selected slashed, while shorter odds selections may lengthen if a player falls down the boards according to rumours.

As such, the weeks leading up to the NFL Draft can see a lot of market movements with players more so than at any other point in the year.

What Happens To the College Players that are Undrafted?

Undrafted college players can be signed by teams as a free agent to their initial pre-season squad where they can compete for a place in the final 53-man roster, or a place in the practice squad.

Other undrafted players can sign for non-NFL teams such as those in the CFL or the Arena League or similar.

Some will give up their hopes of being a football professional and instead turn their attention to a different career.

NFL Draft Highlights And Facts

Being a number 1 pick does not guarantee NFL success. Some of the biggest flops selected at Number 1 in the draft in recent times include: –

  • Aundray Bruce (Atlanta Falcons) – 1988
  • Jeff George (Indianapolis Colts) – 1990
  • Tim Couch (Cleveland Browns) – 1999
  • JaMarcus Russell (Oakland Raiders) – 2007

On the flip side of that, some of the best most recent number 1 picks in the NFL Draft include:

  • Myles Garrett (Cleveland Browns) – 2017
  • Joe Burrow (Cincinnati Bengals) – 2020
  • Eric Fisher (Kansas City Chiefs) – 2013
  • Matt Stafford (Detroit Lions) – 2009
  • Eli Manning (San Diego Chargers) – 2004
  • Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts) – 1998
  • Orlando Pace (St Louis Rams) – 1997

Similarly, being drafted in the lower rounds may not harm your prospects if you are a talent who can impress the coaches. Some of the most famous names drafted in the lower rounds of the draft (Round 4 or below) include: –

  • Tom Brady – 6th Round
  • Brock Purdy – 7th Round
  • Puka Nacua – 5th Round
  • Isiah Pacheco – 7th Round
  • Talanoa Hufanga – 5th Round
  • Dre Greenlaw – 5th Round
  • Jordan Mailata – 7th Round

The NFL Draft is one of the most exciting events of the year for NFL teams and fans as they get a chance to see their team rebuild and re-stock ahead of the new season. Hopefully, our guide will give you a new appreciation of what happens on those crucial three days of the NFL year at the end of April!