How many rounds (and picks) are in the NFL Draft?

NFL Draft
NFL Draft / Perry Knotts/GettyImages

Believe it or not, the NFL Draft used to have far more rounds than it currently has in today's format.

Aside from the Super Bowl, the biggest event on the NFL calendar is the annual NFL Draft, held by the league to welcome in collegiate players who've declared for going pro.

The best part? Every team gets to participate, which means every fan has a stake in the event that takes place over the final weekend in April.

The NFL Draft has a rich history from its inception in 1936. Before the NFL and AFL merger in 1970, and even including the long-defunct AAFC, it was common for former collegiate players to be drafted by different teams in different leagues simultaneously.

That first draft in 1936 had 10 rounds, and the number even increased to 20 in 1939. At the 1970 merger, 12 rounds became the standard until 1997.

How many rounds does the NFL Draft have?

Starting in 1997, the league adopted its current format of seven rounds in the NFL Draft.

Typically, Round 1 garners the most attention and will generally include the biggest high-profile players eligible. The TV broadcast for the first round usually spans a full night of action, while Rounds 2 and 3 receive slightly less attention and will be joined together on the following night of coverage.

Rounds 4 through 7 are typically televised as the final day of the draft, which receives far less hype and publicity but nevertheless commands the attention of many die-hard fans who hope their team grabs the next proverbial "diamond in the rough."

Players who go undrafted in the NFL Draft become known as undrafted free agents and may subsequently sign with any team immediately after the draft.

How many picks are in the NFL Draft?

Each round awards one natural pick to each of the 32 teams in the league. So, there are 32 picks in Round 1, 32 picks in Round 2, 32 picks in Round 3 and so on until the draft concludes. These picks are determined by reverse order with the worst team in the NFL, usually boasting the worst record, picking first and the Super Bowl champion picking last in a round.

However, teams can be awarded compensatory draft picks for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • Net loss of qualifying free agents
  • Rooney Rule -- draft picks awarded for teams developing minority coaches and assistants who take on head-coaching or general manager roles elsewhere

Related story: 49ers' all-time best NFL Draft picks in every round

The formula for determining compensatory picks because of free agents is complex, yet these picks are always found at the ends of Rounds 3 through 7 after the first 32 awarded selections are made. That's why these rounds almost always have more than the original 32 picks.

It's important to note that teams can trade away both awarded draft picks and compensatory draft picks, and it's also noteworthy that teams can forfeit picks due to violations of league rules, too.

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