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How the NFL Draft Works

Setting the Ground Rules
Fans at the Draft
While millions of fans are only able to watch the draft on television, there are a few who attend the event. These fans cheer and jeer just as they would if they were sitting in the stands on game day.

Tickets are available to fans on a first-come, first-serve basis about a week prior to the draft, and are distributed on the morning of the draft's first day. Each fan is given just one ticket, which can be used for admission for both days of the draft.

The NFL Draft is always held over a weekend in April, which happens to be halfway between the date of the Super Bowl and the beginning of training camp in July. The exact date for the draft varies from year to year.

The draft consists of seven rounds, with rounds one through three held on Saturday, and rounds four through seven on Sunday. The average round consists of 32 picks, which allows each team approximately one pick per round. Some teams have more than one pick in a round, and some teams may not have any picks in a round. Picks per team vary because draft picks can be traded to other teams, and the NFL can award additional picks to a team if the team loses players designated as restricted free agents.

A free agent is a player whose contract has expired and is eligible to sign with another team. A restricted free agent is a player for whom another team can make an offer, but his current team is allowed to match that offer. If the current team chooses not to match the offer, it may receive compensation in the form of a draft choice. The NFL awards compensatory picks based on the net loss of restricted free agents. The limit for compensatory picks is four per team.

Due to compensatory picks and the addition of expansion teams, the total number of picks has varied since the draft was reduced to seven rounds in 1994. There were 262 players selected in the 2003 NFL Draft, which was the most since 1994. Between 1977 and 1993, the draft consisted of 12 rounds, and from 1967 to 1976 there were 17 rounds per draft.

Within each round, each team takes its turn in selecting a player. In the next section, we will take a closer look at how the selection process works.