NFL Quick Guides

How The NFL Draft Order Is Decided – A Quick Guide

Like many US sports, there is a formulated method of deciding who gets to pick the best players. Unlike the NBA who runs a slightly complex lottery draw (to stop rebuilding teams from deliberately losing late-season games to get the top pick), the pecking order is based purely on results, which is easier with a 16 game season. It works pretty well and most years several new teams will be in the playoffs compared to the season before.  Anyway, this is how it’s currently decided

The NFL Draft Order Determinants

1              Teams who don’t make the playoffs get picks 1-20 with the team with the worst record picking first overall and so on.

2              The teams who lose in the Wild Card round get picks 21-24. The loser with the worst record gets to pick 21 and the strongest 24. Identical Win/Loss records are sored by tiebreaks – see below.

3              Teams eliminated in the Divisional round get picks 25-28 – same basis

4              Teams eliminated in the Conference Championships get picks 29-30 again same basis

5              The Super Bowl runner up gets pick 31

6              The Super Bowl winner gets to pick 32nd

Tie Breakers

  1. Strength of Schedule win/loss ration of opponents
  2. Division tiebreakers who finished best in the division
  3. Conference tiebreakers who had the best record in conference games
  4. Coin flip – heads or tails.

This applies to all seven rounds of the draft.

Compensatory Picks

To ensure fairness and as compensation for losses in Free Agency, a number of picks are awarded in rounds 3-7 each year. This is based on a complex formula which encompasses salary, playing time and postseason honours. In 2019, 32 have been awarded including 7 in round three.

Image credit Editorial credit: Debby Wong /



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