Draft Dose: Evolution of the NFL draft

Posted March 14, 2011 @ 10:21 a.m.
Posted By Andrew Struckmeyer

Last year, the NFL reworked the format of the NFL draft, moving the first round to Thursday, the second and third rounds to Friday, and the last four rounds to Saturday. Stretching its annual selection meeting to three days was not the first change the NFL has made. The league has come a long way since 1936, when teams gathered in a Philadelphia hotel to make their selections. In the 15th installment of the Draft Dose series, we take a look back at how the event has evolved:


The first NFL draft is held in a Philadelphia hotel in 1936. The first player drafted, Jay Berwanger from the University of Chicago, opted not to play professional football at all. The '36 draft had nine rounds. It was increased to 10 rounds in '37. In 1939, the draft expanded to 20 rounds. And, with perhaps the most peculiar rule, the '38 and '39 drafts had a stipulation that only the bottom five teams in the league could make selections in the second and fourth rounds.


The stipulation of allowing only the bottom five teams in the league to pick in the second and fourth rounds continued through 1944. In 1947, an extra pick was added to the draft in the form of the first overall pick. This pick was determined by a lottery, and this tradition continued through 1958.


After the number of rounds was adjusted earlier in the decade, it stayed at 30 rounds through the '50s. However, to combat the threat of players being drafted by other leagues, the drafts were held earlier in the year, with the first four rounds in late November or early December and the remaining rounds in January.


The NFL and AFL continued to compete for draft prospects, so much so that beginning in 1960 the NFL held a secret early draft to sign players before the AFL. These espionage tactics were no longer necessary, of course, after the merger in 1966.


The draft was cut down to 12 rounds in 1977. Some teams, though, didn't put much stock in the draft. For example, the Redskins traded away every first-round draft pick during the decade. After 1971, the earliest Washington picked in the '70s was the fourth round.


The NFL now had to compete with yet another league, the USFL. Possibly the first famous draft class was in 1983 with six quarterbacks taken in the first round: John Elway, Todd Blackledge, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason, Ken O'Brien and Dan Marino.


The number of rounds was reduced to eight in 1993, and then again to the current seven in '94. After being a Sunday and Monday event from 1988-94 (and a weekday event prior to that), the draft switched to a Saturday-Sunday event in '95, which is how it remained until last year's change.