How many rounds are in the NFL Draft?

How many rounds are in the NFL Draft? More than you think, as the event goes on for a whole weekend.

How many rounds are in the NFL Draft?
Wade McElwain

Written by: Wade McElwain

(Senior Sports Writer)

Fact checked by: Umaima Saeed

(Sports Writer)

Last updated: 2023-11-08

How many rounds are in the NFL Draft?

The NFL Draft is an eagerly anticipated event for football fans across the United States and around the world. It's the annual process through which NFL teams select eligible players to join their rosters.  The first NFL Draft was held in Philadelphia in 1936, and is a far cry from the TV and media spectacle that it is today.  But have you ever wondered how many rounds are in the NFL Draft?  Let’s get into it!

The Basics: 7 Rounds

The NFL Draft is composed of seven rounds. Each round represents one stage of player selection, and teams make their picks in a predetermined order. The draft is held over several days, typically spanning a weekend, to accommodate the vast number of players eligible for selection.
In each of the seven rounds, teams select players based on a pre-established order, which is determined by the previous season's standings. The team with the worst record from the previous season gets the first pick, while the Super Bowl champion picks last in each round.
Teams can also trade their picks to other teams, as well as cash in on trade picks in each round. 
Previous NFL drafts have included 8-10 rounds, but it wasn’t until 1994 that the League settled on 7 rounds to deal with myriad of issues around Free Agency. 

The Importance of Rounds

Understanding the number of rounds in the NFL Draft is crucial because it directly affects how players are distributed among the teams. The first few rounds are generally considered the most important, as they yield the highest-rated prospects. In contrast, later rounds are more about depth and potential.

First Round: The first round of the NFL Draft is the most glamorous. It features the most highly touted college players, often considered "blue-chip" prospects. Teams aim to secure franchise-changing talent with their first-round selections. These players are expected to make an immediate impact on the team. In this round, each team has 10 minutes to make their selection, if they go over, they can pick later, but they may lose their top pick.  

Second and Third Rounds: The second and third rounds still offer high-quality talent, but they might have some concerns or might not be as polished as first-rounders. Teams look for potential starters and contributors in these rounds.
The second and third rounds take over the Friday, with teams in the second round being given 7 minutes per pick, and then 5 minutes for regular or compensatory picks in round three. 

Fourth through Seventh Rounds: In these later rounds, teams are often searching for hidden gems and players who can provide depth to their rosters. Many successful NFL players have been drafted in these rounds, making them crucial for building a complete team.
Rounds 4-7 usually take place on the Saturday, and teams are afforded 5 minutes per pick up until round 6. In round 7, that time drops to 4 minutes, because people want to get home. 

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Compensatory Picks

Compensatory picks in the NFL draft are additional draft selections that are awarded to teams as a means of compensating for the loss of unrestricted free agents (UFAs) in the previous offseason. These picks are typically awarded at the end of certain rounds, after the regular selections, and provide teams with extra opportunities to acquire new talent.

Here's how the compensatory pick process works:

Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs): When an NFL team loses more or higher-valued unrestricted free agents than they sign in a given offseason, they become eligible to receive compensatory picks in the next year's NFL Draft. UFAs are players whose contracts have expired, and they are free to sign with any team in the league.

Compensatory Formula: The specific formula used by the NFL to determine which compensatory picks teams receive is not publicly disclosed. However, it takes into account the quality and quantity of the UFAs lost and signed. Factors like the player's salary, playing time, and postseason awards can influence the value of the compensatory pick.

Compensatory Pick Rounds: Compensatory picks are generally awarded at the end of Rounds 3 through 7 of the NFL Draft. The round in which a team receives a compensatory pick depends on the value of the compensatory selection they are awarded. Higher-value picks are placed in earlier rounds.

Trading Compensatory Picks: Compensatory picks can be traded, unlike regular compensatory selections. This means that teams can use them as assets to move up or down in the draft or to acquire players or picks from other teams.

Maximum Number of Compensatory Picks: There is a maximum of 32 compensatory picks awarded each year, typically spread among multiple teams.

Compensatory picks are designed to help teams replenish their rosters after significant losses in free agency. They are especially valuable for teams that have been diligent in managing their salary cap and have lost more UFAs than they've signed. These extra picks provide an opportunity to select additional talent in the draft and can be used to develop and strengthen the team's roster.
The NFL typically announces the compensatory picks for the upcoming draft in late February or early March, just a few weeks before the annual NFL Draft, allowing teams to plan their draft strategies accordingly.

The Undrafted Free Agent Market

While there are seven rounds in the NFL Draft, it's essential to remember that many talented players go undrafted. These players become free agents and have the opportunity to sign with NFL teams after the draft concludes. Undrafted free agents have a challenging road to secure a spot on an NFL roster, but many have gone on to have successful careers in the league.

Mr Irrelevant

The last person picked in the NFL Draft is given the dubious title of ‘Mr. Irrelevant’, as historically these players have fizzled and failed out of the league.  That was until 2022, when the title of Mr. Irrelevant fell to University of Iowa quarterback Brock Purdy, who not only helped with post season heroics for the San Francisco 49ers, but they also named him the starting quarterback after all. 
If Brock Purdy can be drafted in the 7th round, at pick number 262, then anyone can do it! Ok, maybe not.
At least now you know how intense the 7 rounds of the NFL Draft actually is.

Wade McElwain

Wade McElwain

Wade McElwain is our Mr. NFL, a bona fide North American sports nut who knows about NBA, NHL, MLB, PGA plus MMA boxing and more. Originally from Canada, Wade is also an international award-winning stand-up comedian; host of numerous TV game shows; and a TV producer & writer. He also runs NFL in London-the largest NFL fan group in Europe, and has hosted NFL events at Wembley and around the world. Yes, he lives alone and does nothing but watch sports.

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