A Long Shot
Almost every athlete that plays high school football dreams of one day playing in the NFL, but for most players that dream is never realized. The hard truth is that the NFL has a finite number of jobs, and only the most talented are selected to fill those positions.
One million high school students participate in football annually, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. Very few of those players, only one in 17, will even play college football.
It's an even longer shot that a high school player will eventually play for an NFL team. Only one in 50 college football seniors are drafted by an NFL team, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). That means that just nine in 10,000, or .09 percent, of high school senior football players are eventually drafted by an NFL team.
Teams can draft almost anyone they want. In fact, the Dallas Cowboys have drafted two players with no football experience -- Olympic gold-medallists Carl Lewis in 1984 (12th round) and Bob Hayes in 1964 (7th round). Hayes took the ball and ran with it, while Lewis turned down the Cowboys for more Olympic gold.
While athletes from other sports sometimes are drafted, the majority of the players drafted are those who played college football. One of the few draft rules is that underclass players are prohibited from entering the draft until three college football seasons have passed since their high school graduation. This means that almost all freshmen and some sophomores cannot be drafted.
The deadline for underclassmen, sophomores and juniors, to declare themselves eligible for the NFL draft is in January. Once a player declares for the draft, they forego their remaining eligibility to play college football, which means that once they declare for the draft they cannot return to play in college.
On draft day, hundreds of players are at Madison Square Garden or in their living rooms waiting for their names to be announced. Some of the players who are likely to be drafted in the first round are invited to attend the draft. These are the players who you see going up on stage when their names are called, putting on the team hat, and having their picture taken holding a team jersey.
These first-round players wait backstage in the green room with their family and friends, along with their agents. Some won't be called until the second round, and with less fanfare. Draft position is important to players and their agents because the higher selections get paid more than players chosen later in the draft.
When quarterback David Carr was drafted by the Houston Texans in the 2002 NFL Draft, he received a $10,920,000 signing bonus and a six-year contract for $47,250,000. The second player taken, defensive end Julius Peppers, received a $9,100,00 signing bonus and a seven-year, $20,985,300 contract. Compare that with the contract given to defensive tackle Ahmad Miller, who was the last player taken in the 2002 draft. He received a $21,000 signing bonus and a three-year, $926,000 contract.
Miller resides on the playing end of the spectrum of athletes who may or may not get drafted. There are lots of players whose phone doesn't ring on draft day. For these players, it is an uphill battle to play in the NFL, but not an impossible task. There's always next year. That's what the draft is all about -- hope.
For more information on the NFL draft and related topics, check out the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Football Quiz
- NFL Players, In Their Own Words
- How American Football Works
- How NFL Equipment Works
- How the Physics of Football Works
- How the Super Bowl Works
- How the First-Down Line Works
- How EyeVision Works
- How does the NFL's salary cap work?
- How are the college football rankings determined?
More Great Links
- Official NFL Web site
- ESPN.com: NFL Draft coverage
- NFL.com: NFL Draft
- NFL Draft Blitz
- Irrelevant Week
- NCAA Football