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How Does NFL Draft Order Work?

Have you ever sat down, thought about how intriguing the inner workings of pro football are and thought: Damn, so this isn’t just a sport after all?

The NFL is a universe all upon itself, with as many thrills as there are doubts and questions to be answered, especially regarding how specific events work like.

How Does NFL Draft Order Work?
Caleb Williams #13 of the USC Trojans-. Haffey/Getty Images/AFP

Take the NFL Draft, for example. How does the NFL draft order work? Who decides in what order or how each team picks? What happens if a team wants to trade picks with another squad?

As the countdown to the 2024 NFL Draft continues to tick away, let’s break down how the NFL draft order works and what to consider in order to fully understand.

Here’s a look at some NFL Draft Odds to consider!

How is the Selection Order of NFL Draft Decided?

So you decided to stick around to answer that age-old question that manu football fans have wondered at least once: how does the NFL draft work? Well, let’s get to it.

At the beginning of each draft, all 32 teams in the league are awarded one draft pick for each of the seven rounds of the event. The way in which teams are set into order of selection is actually pretty easy to understand, at least for the first 20 teams picking.

From picks Nos. 1 to 20, the teams taking each slot is determined by the final regular season standings. In a world where finishing last is usually seen as the worst scenario possible, in the NFL Draft, finishing last can mean you end up picking first in next season’s draft.

So next time your favorite team is flunking out and making your NFL betting game a bust, just remember, there might be something to look forward to at the end of so much peril.

In short, from 1 to 20, the team with the worst record picks first and that pattern continues for the first 20 selections.

From here on is where teams that made it into the playoffs come into play. Occupying the 21st to 32nd slots in the draft, the order is decided in the following manner:

  • The first four teams eliminated from the postseason in the wild card round take the 21-24 slots depending on their regular-season record.
  • The following four teams eliminated in the divisional round of the playoffs take the 25-28 slots, again depending on their regular-season record.
  • The two teams booted out in the conference title round of the playoffs go on to take the 29th and 30th slots. Yes, you guessed it, depending on their regular season record.
  • The team that finished as runner-up in the Super Bowl gets the 31st pick.
  • The Super Bowl champion takes the 32nd slot in the draft, closing out the first round of the draft.


Now, if a situation arises where two or more teams finish the season with similar win-loss records, a series of factors come into play.

Firstl, strength of schedule is compared. The team holding the schedule with the highest winning percentage of its opponents has the edge.

If the teams are still tied, conference and divisional tiebreakers come into play. If these tiebreakers are not applicable to act as tiebreakers, a new set of tiebreakers are utilized.

These range from head-to-head comparison, to best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, strength of victory in all games, best combined ranking among opposing teams in points scored and allowed in all of their games, best net point total in all games, and best net TD total in all games.

If, at the end of it all, there’s still a tie, a coin toss is put into play.

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Factors to Consider About the NFL Draft Order

Now that we have the general understanding of how the draft order works, let’s talk about a couple of very important factors to consider.


1. Compensatory Draft Picks

As mentioned before, all teams get one pick per round in the draft. And due to the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, teams are allowed to receive one or more compensatory free agent picks, especially if the team lost a free agent to other teams. That offers the chance to find one or more prospects in the draft to fill the position vacated by the free agent.

These picks are established through a formula created by the NFL Management Council, which takes into account a player’s salary, his playing time and postseason achievements.

The value of the free agents is determined by the formula, and the team receiving the picks is awarded a total of one to four picks, depending on the net loss value of the free agent.

Ever since the 2017 season, these picks can be traded.


2. Trades

Since we’re talking about trades, player swaps usually end up being one of the most intriguing factors in every year’s draft.

With NFL rumors sites constantly dishing out gossip on potential negotiations between teams and players potentially moving to new destinations, once the draft comes along, you can be sure that at least one blockbuster trade will go down.

Take last year’s draft, for example. The Chicago Bears traded the No. 1 overall pick to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for wide receiver DJ Moore, the No. 9 selection in last year’s draft and a first-round pick in the 2024 draft.

Carolina wound up finishing with the worst record in the NFL last season, giving the Bears the No. 1 overall pick this year. Now, one of the main topics in all NFL news pieces revolves around whether or not the Chicago Bears will trade away the first overall pick. If you’re asking me, I would, but I like Chicago QB Justin Fields, so go figure.

Anyways, once the draft order is assigned, all picks are game for doing business. Team representatives can use their current or future draft capital to acquire players from other teams, with due supervision from league officials. Swapping draft picks is also commonplace.

Trades can be done before or during the draft, and once a deal is reached, a league official announces the finalized trade to media and fans, allowing for the event to carry on.

Some trades work out great. In 1985, when the San Francisco 49ers traded a second- and third-round pick to the New England Patriots in exchange for a first-round pick and a third-rounder. With that pick, the Niners would go on to select a wide receiver from Mississippi Valley State by the name of Jerry Rice.

On the other hand, some other trades don’t end up working as well. They actually end up stinking up the venue and ticking off many fans, such as when San Francisco paid a draft ransom in 2021 to trade up in the first round to pick Trey Lance at No. 3.

If you can’t remember the haul the Niners gave up in exchange for that move, look it up and you’ll see why nobody who likes to bet on NFL action would have bet on this trade working out.


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Questions Of The Day

Which Team Holds The Most Picks In The 2024 NFL Draft?

With 13 selections, the Arizona Cardinals hold the most picks in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Which Team Holds The Most NFL Draft Pick Value This Year?

With 1,472 points, the Arizona Cardinals hold the most NFL draft pick value in this year’s event.

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