10 Facts About the NFL Draft
By Scott Beggs
Over the course of three days every year, representatives from all 32 NFL teams gather to draft the next generation of players who will hopefully propel their franchises to victory. What started in a Philadelphia Ritz-Carlton in 1936 has become its own spectacle, with a global audience of dozens of millions of people over the multi-day process. During this time, the fates of entire franchises are forever altered, as future Hall of Famers and infamous busts alike line the stage for a photo op with their brand-new team's jersey.
Before the 2022 NFL Draft kicks off on April 28, 2022, check out these 10 facts about the most exciting football event of the year that isn't the Super Bowl.
1. The worst team picks first and the best team picks last in the NFL Draft. In theory.
The nature of the NFL Draft is to let losing teams from the previous season have the first shot at picking players that might give them a boost. Thus, the Super Bowl champions pick last (or 32nd in the current incarnation). The team that lost the Super Bowl then goes 31st, followed by playoff teams, and then teams who failed to make the playoffs, with the worst team securing the first choice. That's the theory, anyway. In reality, there are numerous ways in which the draft order can change—and teams often trade their picks (especially valuable first-rounders) to another squad in exchange for a high-end player who's already in the league.
One of the most memorable examples of a draft order being shaken up came in 1999, when the New Orleans Saints, originally slated to pick 12th, traded eight picks between the 1999 and 2000 drafts to move into the Washington Commanders's spot at fifth overall so they could choose running back Ricky Williams in the first round. The Commanders, in turn, then traded many of those spots to various teams, further upending the draft order.
Teams can also lose draft picks for certain infractions, such as when the New England Patriots were penalized their final pick in the 2017 draft due to the "Deflategate" scandal.
2. There are 262 picks in the 2022 draft.
The number of overall picks depends on the number of teams and the number of rounds. The very first draft in 1936 featured 81 picks (nine rounds for nine teams) from a pool of 90 players. The 2022 NFL Draft features seven rounds for the 32 teams, with 262 spots in total, thanks to some special compensatory picks in the later rounds. The Jacksonville Jaguars—who went a league-worst 3-14 in 2021—will pick first in 2022 and the San Francisco 49ers will have the last pick of the final round.
3. You can't be drafted right out of high school.
Per the rules of the NFL, the only players eligible for the draft are those who have been out of high school for at least three years and who have "used up their college eligibility before the start of the next college football season." College eligibility offers athletes five years (starting after high school graduation) to compete in four seasons of football, and athletes are only eligible for the draft for one year after their college eligibility runs out. Any players who want to secure eligibility outside those parameters must appeal to the league. In 2017, 106 undergrads were granted approval from the NFL to be drafted early.
4. The Philadelphia Eagles are responsible for the draft.
As the NFL expanded in the 1930s, Philadelphia Eagles co-owner Bert Bell raised a significant problem with the other owners: His team didn't have the money to compete for the best players. He proposed a draft system that would help level that playing field; the other owners agreed, and they got together on February 8, 1936, in the Ritz-Carlton hotel to choose from 90 prospective players.
5. The first player drafted never played in the NFL.
If Bell's intention had been to give losing teams a leg up on great players, he was in for a shock with his first-ever pick (which was also the first-ever pick overall). The Eagles went with halfback Jay Berwanger from the University of Chicago at the top spot. And by all accounts, it was a no-brainer pick: In 1935, Berwanger became the first recipient of the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy, now known as the Heisman Trophy, an award that's given annually to the most outstanding college football player. But despite being set up for a successful pro football career, the Eagles weren't able to meet Berwanger's salary demands, so they traded their negotiating rights to him to the Chicago Bears.
Turns out, Berwanger didn't sign with the Bears, either, and instead chose to go work as a foam-rubber salesman. (Fun fact: Berwanger made a bit of history as the only Heisman winner ever to be tackled by a future United States President when a young Gerald Ford got him to the ground during a game against Michigan in 1934.)
6. Tom Brady was the 199th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft.
Seven Superbowl wins. Five Superbowl MVP titles. Fifteen Pro Bowl appearances. Tom Brady is widely recognized as the greatest NFL quarterback of all time, but his draft day was an inauspicious occasion when he was chosen in the sixth round, 199th overall, by a New England Patriots team that already had three quarterbacks.
"We just saw the value there," then-assistant director of player personnel Scott Pioli said. "We didn’t think he was going to be this guy who won seven Super Bowls or that he’d come in and be what he was to the franchise. We just said, ‘OK, we’re going to take him because there’s just too much value at this point and time to keep passing up.’" The QBs picked ahead of Brady that year were Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman, Tee Martin, Marc Bulger, and Spergon Wynn.
7. Players get their draft-day jerseys quickly thanks to a thermal presser.
The NFL Draft is a mad scramble of ever-shifting puzzle pieces that could change right up until the last second a team has to make a selection. General managers and coaches are constantly wheeling and dealing to make trades, secure names, and then trade those names for new names. So how does a player who thought they were going to the San Francisco 49ers end up with their last name on a Minnesota Vikings jersey to hold on stage? Nike and an apparel company called STAHLS make one as soon as the decision is nailed down, utilizing a steam presser on site to customize the uniform within a tight two-minute window between selection and presentation. STAHLS claims they can whip up a fresh jersey in under 60 seconds.
8. The 1984 and 1992 drafts are the only ones not to feature Hall of Famers.
If you can get a Tom Brady with the 199th pick, what's the real value of the first crack? For the first 69 drafts, 15 of the players selected first made it to the Hall of Fame. It's no surprise that every year delivers at least one Hall of Famer since the draft loads a few hundred new players into the league, but 1984 and 1992 are infamous for producing no one that went the distance. A supplemental draft in 1984 to sign college athletes who had already signed with the CFL and the budding USFL yielded Hall of Famers Steve Young, Gary Zimmerman, and Reggie White, but the main draft didn't produce anyone worthy of induction.
9. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers once drafted the wrong player.
That isn't to say they picked a talented upstart who turned out to be a dud. That's normal. No, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked the entirely wrong person in 1982 when they drafted guard Sean Farrell but had meant to draft defensive end Booker Reese. They'd narrowed it down to the two players, but, with 30 seconds left to decide, a faulty speakerphone and background noise cost them the player they really wanted.
Director of player personnel Ken Herock said, "We’re not going with Sean Farrell, we’re going with Booker Reese. Turn it in." But equipment manager Pat Marcuccillo didn't hear the first part right or the second part at all, and the cussing commenced in the team's office when they heard a totally different name get called at the podium than what they'd intended. They tried to get it changed, but the league stuck by the rules.
10. Notre Dame has sent the most players to the NFL in the draft.
Out of all the colleges that send players to the NFL, Notre Dame is currently at the top of the all-time dog pile with 520 draftees, according to Drafthistory.com. USC is a close second with 516, but every school below is playing catch up. Ohio State comes in at 473; Oklahoma at 402; and Michigan and Alabama jostle for fourth place with 387 and 384, respectively. If we're just looking at drafts from 2000 to 2020, however, Ohio State has led the charge, sending 141 players to the NFL, with 31 (tied with Alabama) going in the first round.