As we gear up for the biggest event of the football offseason—the NFL Draft—I thought we should brush up on the basics of the draft: how it began, how it works, and what the first round of this year’s draft will look like.
Before the NFL draft, teams could go after any players they could afford, and players were free to join any team that passed good checks. As you might imagine, the result was disparity in strength between the bigger, wealthy teams and the smaller, cash-poor teams. The NFL draft became an attempt to level the playing field in the player market. The main advocate for creating a draft of college players was Bert Bell, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles (he would later become NFL commissioner).
The first draft was held in a Philadelphia hotel on May 19, 1935. The first player to be drafted, Heisman Trophy winner Jay Berwanger, ultimately chose not to play professional football (not an unusual choice at the time). Therefore, the player who had the distinction of being the first drafted player to play in the NFL is Riley Smith, who was chosen second by the Boston Redskins.
|The draft is now held at Radio City Music Hall in NYC|
How it works
There are seven total rounds of the NFL draft, which begins on Thursday, April 26, and ends on Saturday, April 28th. Teams select players in inverse order from how they finished the previous season. In other words, the team that finished dead last in the league gets the first overall selection in the ensuing draft. This year, the Indianapolis Colts, who finished with a 2-win, 14-loss record, will make the first selection. The New York Giants, who were the 2012 champions, will make the last selection of the first round (32nd overall).
It is important to understand, however, that final standing in the league is only the starting point for determining the order in which teams select players. How might the order change? Through trades that have taken place either before the draft begins (starting one to three years prior right up to draft day) or after it starts (which can make for some exciting moments).
In previous years, you didn’t see much trade activity involving first round draft picks. This was because of the (in)famously high salaries that first-round rookies get. Unless it was absolutely desperate to grab that unproven rookie who is destined to be its savior, a team wasn’t likely to be banging down doors (or ringing phones) to trade up. Since no one knows how a college superstar will fare in the pros, it was just too much financial risk for an unknown reward.
Under the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) reached last summer, however, much of the risk that comes with making high draft picks has been minimized. The new CBA provides for a rookie “wage scale,” which lowers the value of their contracts, particularly those drafted in the first round. First round picks will have four-year contracts with the team having a fifth-year option. The end result is that first round players will be less expensive. Therefore, teams will be more willing to make trades to get higher picks, and teams that have high picks—say in the top five— and aren’t interested in the top prospects that are expected to be chosen early will have more a greater chance to trade down, for a higher value selection that they really need.
For example, last month the Washington Redskins gave the St. Louis Rams their first-round and second-round picks from this year’s draft, and two first-round picks from next year’s draft, in return for the Rams’ first-round pick (second overall). The Redskins are expected to select Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III (left); the Rams, who believe that Sam Bradford is still their franchise quarterback, weren’t going to be interested in RG3, and the Redskins didn’t want to take the chance that one of the other teams picking ahead of them in the first round would take him.
The 2012 NFL Draft
So, with trades accounted for, here is the draft order for the first round of this year’s draft:
1. Indianapolis Colts
2. Washington Redskins (from Rams trade)
3. Minnesota Vikings
4. Cleveland Browns
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
6. St. Louis Rams (from Redskins trade)
7. Jacksonville Jaguars
8. Miami Dolphins
9. Carolina Panthers
10. Buffalo Bills
11. Kansas City Chiefs
12. Seattle Seahawks
13. Arizona Cardinals
14. Dallas Cowboys
15. Philadelphia Eagles
16. New York Jets
17. Cincinnati Bengals (from trade with Raiders)
18. San Diego Chargers
19. Chicago Bears
20. Tennessee Titans
21. Cincinnati Bengals
22. Cleveland Browns
23. Detroit Lions
24. Pittsburgh Steelers
25. Denver Broncos
26. Houston Texans
27. New England Patriots (from trade with Saints)
28. Green Bay Packers
29. Baltimore Ravens
30. San Francisco 49ers
31. New England Patriots
32. New York Giants
Keep in mind that this could still change between now and draft day, and even on the first day of the draft. For now, though, notice two things: (1) there are a few teams with multiple picks in the first round (like Cleveland and Cincinnati); and (2) there are a few teams with no picks in the first round (like Atlanta and New Orleans).
|The Oakland and New Orleans war rooms on Day 1|
Our look at the NFL Draft isn’t over yet! Tune in next time, when we’ll: learn how teams get “compensatory” draft picks; meet Mr. Irrelevant; and find out what happened in past years when things didn’t go exactly as planned…