The draft is an important event for NFL teams because it is the easiest way to improve their rosters. The NFL has less activity in free agency and trades, especially among the sport’s biggest stars, so it is essential that squads make good selections in the draft to be able to get some of the next group of stars before they start signing nine-figure salaries.
The draft has become a major event now, but it was a lot more low-key in the early days of the draft. So when was the first draft held? Let’s take a look at the history of the NFL draft.
When was the first NFL draft?
The history of the draft dates all the way back to 1936, when the first draft was held in Philadelphia on February 8. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the City of Brotherly Love was the site of what was much different than what the draft has become now.
It didn’t take place over multiple days as it does now. There were nine teams in the league at the time, and each one picked nine players. Of the 81 players picked in the draft, four went on to be Hall of Famers. But some things were the same then as now.
For one thing, the No. 1 pick in the draft, Jay Berwanger out of the University of Chicago, never played in the league because he held out for more money.
How the NFL draft has evolved over the years
From that 81-player draft more than 80 years ago, the draft has evolved into a three-day spectacle that now airs live in primetime on multiple networks. In the early days of the draft, it traveled from location to location but it found a permanent — or so it seemed — home in New York City in 1965.
The draft would be held at different venues in the city each year from then until 2014, most recently at Radio City Music Hall from 2006-14. Then in 2015 the league decided to take the show on the road once again, beginning in Chicago.
An estimated 200,000 people attended the draft or draft-related activities in the Windy City that year, and that number has only grown in subsequent years as the draft becomes more of a major event each year.
The draft heads to Las Vegas for the first time
This year’s draft is heading to someplace where it hasn’t been before — Las Vegas. With the Raiders officially making the move to Vegas this fall, the league decided to hold the draft in Sin City as a prelude to the Raiders playing their first games there later in the year.
It is such a big deal that the city will be shutting down part of the famous Strip for the event, and the league is even incorporating the famed Bellagio fountains into the draft festivities. The NFL will build the red carpet stage on the fountains’ water, and the draftees in attendance will be transported there by boats.
As has been the case in recent years, the draft will be a Thursday through Saturday event. The first round will be held on April 23, with the second and third rounds on April 24, and the remainder of the draft (rounds four through seven) on April 25.
The draft will air in primetime on several networks, with ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, and NFL Network all slated to air all or part of the three-day event. There are estimates that the attendance could be as much as four times what it was in Chicago five years ago, which goes to show that putting the draft in a different city every year was the right move for the NFL to make.