The Rules of the Draft

The Rules of the Draft

Assigning Draft Picks


(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Currently, each of the 32 clubs receives one pick in each of the seven rounds of the NFL Draft (the number of teams drafting has changed over time, and there have been as many as 30 rounds in a single draft).

The order of selection is determined by the reverse order of finish in the previous season. Barring any trades between clubs, each round starts with the team that finished with the worst record and ends with the Super Bowl champions.

Teams that didn’t qualify for the playoffs are assigned draft slots 1-20. The order is determined by the standings at the end of the regular season: The club with the worst record will pick first, and the one with the best record will pick 20th.

Teams that did qualify for the playoffs are assigned draft slots 21-32. The order is determined by the results of the previous year’s postseason play:

  • The four teams eliminated in the wild card round pick in slots 21-24 in the reverse order of their final regular season records.
  • The four teams eliminated in the divisional round pick in slots 25-28 in the reverse order of their final regular season records.
  • The two teams that lost in the conference championships pick in the 29th and 30th spots in the reverse order of their final regular season records.
  • The team that lost the Super Bowl has the 31st pick in the draft.
  • The Super Bowl champion has the 32nd and final spot in each round.
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In situations where teams finished the previous season with identical records, the determination of draft position is decided by strength of schedule — the aggregate winning percentage of a team’s opponents. The team that played the schedule with the lowest winning percentage will be awarded the higher pick.

If the teams have the same strength of schedule, division or conference tiebreakers are applied. If the divisional or conference tiebreakers are not applicable, or ties still exist between teams of different conferences, ties will be broken the following tie-breaking method:

  1. Head-to-head, if applicable
  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games (minimum of four)
  3. Strength of victory in all games
  4. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed in all games
  5. Best net points in all games
  6. Best net touchdowns in all games
  7. Coin toss

COMPENSATORY PICKS

The New Orleans Saints selected Marques Colston with a compensatory pick in the seventh round of the 2006 NFL Draft. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)
 

The New Orleans Saints selected Marques Colston with a compensatory pick in the seventh round of the 2006 NFL Draft. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

Under the terms of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, the league also can assign as many as 32 additional “compensatory free agent” picks, which allow clubs that have lost free agents to another team to use the draft to try to fill the void. The awarded picks take place at the end of the third through seventh round.

Compensatory free agents are determined by a proprietary formula, developed by the NFL Management Council, which considers a player’s salary, playing time and postseason honors.

The value of the compensatory free agents gained or lost by each team is totaled, and a team is awarded picks of equal value to the net loss of compensatory free agents, up to a maximum of four.

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Starting in 2017, compensatory picks may be traded.