The NFL draft is an annual event that serves as the league’s main recruitment tool to transition college players into the NFL.
It takes place every spring and — in addition to adding new talent to the NFL — works as a sort of equalizer for the league since draft picks are awarded in reverse order of each team’s performance the previous season. Before breaking down draft order, is important to note that there are 32 NFL teams.
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How is NFL Draft Order Determined?
The team with the worst record will receive the No. 1 overall pick while the best team — whoever won the Super Bowl the previous season — will pick last. This order is maintained throughout each round of the draft.
NFL teams that did not make it to the postseason the previous season will hold draft slots 1-20 with the order determined by the standings at the end of the regular season. As stated above, this means that the team with the worst record in the league will have the No. 1 overall pick, the team with the second-worst record will have the No. 2 pick and so on.
Teams that qualified for the playoffs the previous season will receive picks 21-32 depending on their performance in the postseason. Teams eliminated during Wild Card Weekend will receive picks 21-24 with the order determined by their regular-season records. Teams eliminated during the Divisional Round will receive picks 25-28 and the two teams that lose their respective conference championship games will receive picks 29 and 30.
The loser of the Super Bowl gets the 31st pick and the reigning Super Bowl champion will be picking last at No. 32.
Should any teams have identical records, various tie-breaking factors are used to determine the order, including strength of schedule.
How Many Rounds are in the NFL Draft?
There are seven rounds in each NFL draft. Barring any trades and excluding compensatory picks, each team has one pick per round.
What are Compensatory Picks in the NFL Draft?
In addition to the picks allotted to teams automatically, the league may also assign up to 32 additional compensatory free-agent picks in a given draft (a team can receive up to four). These picks, commonly referred to as compensatory picks, allow teams that have lost free agents to other squads to use the draft to replace those lost free agents.
Any compensatory picks allotted for lost free agents take place at the end of the third round through the seventh round. Compensatory free-agent picks are given based on a formula that factors in a variety of things, including the lost player’s salary and playing time. These picks can be traded by teams since 2017.
Per the NFL, teams can also receive compensatory picks if a minority coach or executive is hired to an equally senior or better role by a different team. A resolution creating this change was passed by NFL team owners in 2020 to bolster the league’s efforts to increase diversity.
Compensatory picks awarded for diverse hires supplement the 32-pick cap, meaning more than 32 picks can be awarded.
How Many Picks are in the NFL Draft?
Based on the current draft format outlined above, there will be at least 224 picks in every NFL draft. But compensatory picks mean that is highly unlikely to be the final amount of picks. Since the 2010 NFL Draft, there have been no fewer than 253 picks in a draft.
If you consider the maximum 32 additional compensatory free-agent picks that may be awarded, that would bring us to 256 — but don’t forget that the league can award more than those 32 picks based on diverse hires. There is no maximum amount of compensatory picks that can be added for hires that elevate diverse staff league-wide. For instance, the 2022 NFL Draft had 262 total picks.
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