The NFL’s Draft Rules Are Complicated But Necessary

The NFL Draft Combine is over, and football fans and front offices will soon turn to the NFL Draft this spring. The event has become a big marketing opportunity for the NFL in recent years, but it’s always been a crucial way for teams to restock their rosters with fresh, young talent

The NFL Draft may seem simple on its surface — teams take the players most likely to succeed in the league — but it’s more complicated than many fans think. Although the NFL Draft seems complex, this complexity is necessary. Let’s look at some of the draft’s most important rules and regulations. 

The basics of the NFL Draft

The NFL Draft has seven rounds; the 32 teams each receive one pick in every round. The order the teams pick is determined by the teams’ records from the previous season.

The team with the worst record gets to pick first, the team with the second-worst record picks second, and so on. The last team to choose is that season’s Super Bowl champion. All teams who fail to make the playoffs receive picks 1-20. The teams that make the playoffs receive choices 21-32.

Teams are allowed to trade picks. The NFL can also assign compensatory picks to teams that have lost free agents. The league assigns these picks in the third through seventh rounds. 

The NFL Draft used to take place over the course of two days, but it’s now a three-day event. Thursday is the first round, Friday hosts the second and third rounds, and Saturday is the fourth through seventh rounds.

NFL Draft eligibility rules

Christian Wilkins of Clemson celebrates with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being chosen by the Dolphins during the 2019 NFL Draft
Christian Wilkins celebrates with Commissioner Roger Goodell after being drafted by the Dolphins in 2019 | Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

To gain eligibility for the NFL Draft, a player must be at least three years out of high school while using up their college eligibility before the beginning of the following college football season. Any players who graduate before using all college eligibility must request approval to be eligible for the draft. 

Former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett famously challenged this rule. According to Forbes, Clarett sued for early eligibility. While he won the initial decision, then-federal judge and future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor eventually overturned it.

The rules on college players declaring for the draft

The deadline for college players to declare for the 2020 NFL Draft was January 17, as USA Today reports. Once players declare for the draft they aren’t eligible to play college football. This means you can only enter the NFL Draft once.

If a player isn’t drafted, they become a free agent who can sign with any team. Thousands of college football players find themselves in this situation every offseason. Hall of Famers like Kurt Warner and Warren Moon are two examples of undrafted players who still had successful NFL careers, as the Dallas Morning News explains.

Can a player refuse to play for the team that drafts them?

A player can refuse to play for the team that drafts him; they simply can’t play in the NFL for another team until their draft rights expire. One example of this involves Penn State defensive end Bruce Clark.

In 1980, reports, Green Bay selected Clark despite his insistence that he would not play for them. Instead, Clark played in the CFL for two years. Then he signed with the New Orleans Saints.

Other players have refused to play for a team that wants to draft them, forcing a trade. Both John Elway and Eli Manning made it known they would not play for the Baltimore Colts or San Diego Chargers, respectively. Both those teams selected them and traded them elsewhere.

Follow more updates from Sportscasting on our Facebook page.