The NFL Draft has evolved into a spectacular offseason extravaganza for the National Football League and its fans. The event has seven rounds and lasts for three days. Day one is dedicated to the first round only, day two coverage is for the second and third rounds, and day three is the final day, featuring rounds four through seven.
The gala was held in Madison Square Garden for many years, but moved to Radio City Music Hall the last few years. Team representatives gather and sit at their designated tables on the main floor, while fans from all 32 teams come to cheer or boo the teams’ picks from the rafters.
While no NFL draft is the same in regard to results, owners, presidents and general managers convene with their coaches and personnel staffs in war rooms around the country, excited to add young players to their respective championship foundations.
Phone lines are tested in the morning, and an open line of communication remains from the first pick until the last, each and every day. A designated representative is responsible for writing down the name of the franchise’s pick and walking it to the podium for announcement. If a trade occurs, team reps notify the NFL Player Personnel Department, located in front of the main stage. The NFL rep coordinates the trade(s) between the two teams, and it is subsequently announced.
The location and format of the NFL Draft has changed over the years, especially compared to the first draft, which was held in Philadelphia, where commissioner Bert Bell’s office was located.
1935 – Commissioner Bell created a format for the yearly NFL draft. His idea allowed the less talented teams with the worst records to pick higher, and those finishing with better records drafted later. Today, the Super Bowl champion picks last. Prior to Bell’s new format, acquiring players was a disorganized process; you could just sign them off the street, which created a lot of problems. The more aggressive teams signed a large number of players, and this went on for several years. The league broke contract disputes by referring to postmark dates on the envelopes sent to the league office.
1936 – This was the year of the first NFL draft in Philadelphia, Feb. 8 at the Ritz Carlton. There were nine teams and nine rounds. The first player drafted, Heisman Trophy winner Jay Berwanger, never never played in the NFL.
1937 – The league added a 10th team and upped the number of rounds to ten.
1939 – There were still 10 teams, but the draft expanded to 20 rounds.
1943 – Several football players drafted this year served their country in combat, as the United States was engaged in World War II. The league changed the name of the draft to the “preferred negotiation list.”
1946 – The Washington Redskins become the only team to draft a player twice, first-round running back Cal Rossi out of UCLA.
1947 – The Redskins used their first- round pick to choose Cal Rossi – again! New rules state that a player must have exhausted his college eligibility in order to be eligible for the draft. The Redskins had to forfeit their pick in 1946, but ended up with the player they wanted all along.
1947-1958 – The league added a rule, or change in the format, which allowed one lottery team each year to receive a bonus pick at the top of the draft in exchange for forfeiting its final-round pick for the draft. Each team was eligible to do so only once.
1956-1958 – During this three-year span, the NFL held part of the yearly draft earlier than in the past. This was to prevent top college players from being swept away and signed by the Canadian Football League (CFL). The first three rounds of 1956 were held Nov. 29, 1956, following the annual Army-Navy game. The remaining rounds were held in January. From 1957-1959, the first four rounds were held early.
1960-1966 – With another league battling for players, the American Football League (AFL) held its own draft.
1967 – The merger of the American Football League and the National Football League formed a single draft event with seventeen rounds, held in the fall.
1977 – The draft was reduced to 12 rounds and moved to the spring.
1994 – The draft again was reduced, to seven rounds, and began to function as it still does today.
2010 – The draft format was again changed to a three-day, prime time event on national television. Thursday offers round one, Friday brings rounds two and three, and Saturday concludes the festivities with rounds four through seven.