NFL Draft Season 2023Published: | Updated:
What’s Next for NFL Fans? For all of the fans of the NFL, the Super Bowl can be a mixed bag of emotions. While it’s the highlight and championship game for the NFL season, it’s also the last game of meaningful football played until September. That’s five-plus months until preseason football and six-plus months until regular season games.
Fortunately, directly after the conclusion of the NFL season comes “draft season.” This period of time is when all of the collegiate players who are eligible to get drafted by an NFL team are extensively scouted. This scouting period includes both the NFL combine and individual “Pro Days,” where players work out for scouts in attendance.
The actual draft tends to take place in late April, giving fans a two-month runway to familiarize themselves with top prospects. It’s also a time to learn more about your team’s needs and participate in “mock drafts.” These mock drafts allow fans to assume the position of General Manager and draft players for their team.
Looks like the 2023 NFL draft will take place at Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri, home of the Kansas City Chiefs, with the first round slated for April 27. Rounds 2 and 3 will take place on April 28, and Rounds 4 through 7 will be on April 29.
So what is the NFL Draft?
It is an annual event that serves as the NFL’s main source of player recruitment. Each team is given a position in the draft order, reverse order relative to its record in the previous year. As a result, the worst team picks first, and the Super Bowl champion picks last. Picks can be traded, however, so certain years see playoff contenders picking higher in the order due to previous trades.
From those draft positions, a team can select a player or trade the pick for another selection, a player, or a combination of both. Each round is complete when all the picks have been made.
Fundamentally, the draft has remained the same, but aspects of the draft have changed over the years, including team positioning and the number of rounds. In the early 1940s, teams began employing full-time scouts to find the best available talent, which increased the odds of finding a starting-caliber player. Previously, you were more likely to find players who exclusively attended “blue blood” college football schools. In the modern day, you’re just as likely to see selections from lesser-known football programs.
In 2022 alone, we saw first-round picks from Cincinnati (Sauce Gardner), Boston College (Zion Johnson), Northern Iowa (Trevor Penning), Tulsa (Tyler Smith), and Chattanooga (Cole Strange).
Colloquially, the “name” of the draft each season takes on the form of the NFL season, in which players picked could begin playing professional football. For example, the 2022 NFL Draft was for the 2022 NFL season. The popularity of the draft itself has led to heightened media attention during draft week, with extensive coverage on the day itself.
In order to be eligible for the NFL Draft, players must be at least three years removed from high school (in the United States). The rules don’t explicitly state that the player must have attended college/university, but nearly all the players selected in the NFL have played college football. Most played in the United States, but you’ll occasionally see Canadian universities representing NFL talent as well.
You’ll also occasionally see a player selected after playing football for another league, such as the German Football League (GFL), Canadian Football League (CFL), or Arena Football League (AFL).
Do non-football players ever make it to the NFL?
On rare occasions, you’ll see a player in the NFL who didn’t play college football at all. That’s usually the case of a scout who believes the player has rare potential and can be molded into a future star.
That was the case for former Chargers star tight end, Antonio Gates. Gates played college basketball as a power forward for Kent State University. A Chargers scout identified him as someone with the potential to play tight end, and the team signed him as an undrafted free agent. Despite the lack of football experience, Gates went on to become one of the best tight ends of all time, accumulating 955 catches, 11,841 yards, and 116 career touchdowns.
Rules for the Draft (Order)
The overall selection order is determined by each team’s win-loss record in the previous season, as well as playoff positioning. Teams that did not reach the playoffs are ranked in reverse order of their records, though occasionally tiebreakers come into play.
The following tiebreakers determine ties between teams with identical records:
- Strength of schedule – the team with the lower strength of schedule (i.e., their opponents had fewer wins) is granted the earlier pick
- Divisional tiebreakers
- Conference tiebreakers
- Head-to-head tiebreakers
An exception to the rules above applies to “expansion” teams (teams that have been added to the league as new franchises). Any expansion team is automatically assigned the first overall pick of the draft.
Teams making their picks
With representatives of each team attending the draft, one team is always “on the clock.” In the first round, the team has ten minutes to make their selection. In the second round, that allotted time drops to 7 minutes.
The allotted time is only 5 minutes for the third through the sixth round. The seventh and final round of the NFL Draft is 4 minutes per pick. In the rare circumstance of a team not making a pick in their time slot, the team behind them can submit their selection. This could result in (for example) the 24th team selecting “stealing” a player from the team selecting the 23rd.
Teams can negotiate trades with one another before and during the draft. They can also trade future picks (selections in upcoming drafts) up to three years out. For example, once the 2023 NFL Draft starts, picks up to the 2026 NFL Draft are eligible to be traded.
In addition to the 32 selections in each of the seven rounds awarded to the 32 teams, a total of 32 “comp” picks are awarded to teams based on players that they have lost or gained in free agency. The league defines a class of unrestricted free agents (UFAs) as “compensatory free agents” (CFAs).
Teams that have lost more free agents than they have gained are awarded a comp pick based on the value of the player that left their team. For example, if the New York Giants lost a linebacker who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for $3M/year, they might receive a sixth-round comp pick. However, if the Giants also lost a wide receiver who signed with the Baltimore Ravens for $15M/year, they’d likely receive a fourth or third-round comp pick.
Prior to 2011, teams used to be able to negotiate/agree to a contract with draft-eligible players prior to the draft beginning. This led to rookie first-rounders being paid exorbitant sums of money before they ever stepped foot on the football field.
For example, then Lions #1 overall draft pick Matt Stafford (2009 NFL Draft) agreed to a six-year, $78M deal with almost $42M in guarantees before ever playing in the NFL.
Since 2011, all drafted rookies have predetermined compensation largely based on their draft slot.
The NFL commissioner has the right to forfeit picks for any team for violating draft rules.
Since 1980, 14 teams have combined to forfeit 26 selections for a varying collection of violations, including:
Illegally sequestering players (Oakland Raiders)
Exceeding the salary cap (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Tampering with a coordinator on another team (Carolina Panthers)
Illegally videotaping opposing team signals (New England Patriots)
Paying bounties for injuring opposing players (New Orleans Saints)
Pumping artificial noise into their stadium (Atlanta Falcons)
Violating the league’s anti-tampering policy (Miami Dolphins)
I’ll be doing several mock drafts before the actual mock draft. If you want to see your team’s mock selections, let us know what team you root for, and I’ll be happy to run some simulations!