How the NFL Draft Works

On the Clock

As soon as the game clock at the Super Bowl expires, a new clock starts ticking. That's the clock that ticks down to the first player selected in the NFL draft in April. When a team is on the clock, it means that it has the next selection in the draft and has a set amount of time to make a selection.

While the team with the first selection is on the clock from the end of January, which is when the Super Bowl is played, the clock begins for real on draft day. On the first day of the draft, the NFL commissioner steps to the podium on the stage at The Theater at Madison Square Garden and announces that the first team in the draft order is on the clock.

During the draft, one team is always on the clock. In round one, teams have 15 minutes to make their choice. The decision time drops to 10 minutes in the second round and to five minutes in rounds three through seven. If a team doesn't make a decision in their given time, the next team can pick before them, and the team that missed its turn can submit its selection at any time after their time is up.

A team's draft position is in reverse correlation with the success it achieved on the field during the previous year, which is why the team with the worst record has the first pick of each round, and the Super Bowl champion has the last pick. This is the default draft position for these teams unless they choose to trade their picks. The other 30 teams fall somewhere in between based on the following factors:

  • Nonplayoff teams get to draft before the teams that made the playoffs of the previous season.
  • Playoff teams pick in reverse order of their success.

If teams share the same record, here are the criteria for breaking ties:

  1. Strength of schedule - refers to the combined win-loss record of the teams they played the previous season
  2. Divisional and conference records
  3. Coin toss

In the next section, we will go inside a team's draft day war room and see how selections are made.