DRAFT WEEK IS HERE!!!
Now, let me be the first to state the obvious: we haven’t covered much of anything draft-related in the past few months. That’s true! And that’s mainly because draft projections chip away at my soul…it seems so pointless to spend time guessing where all of the prospects may or may not get drafted only to have it all fall to pieces after the first pick.
So why the excitement? It’s three-fold (Friends lovers, that’s for you):
First, the draft makes the regular season feel like it might actually arrive in the not-too-distant future (even though in reality, this only marks the halfway point…).
Second, it’s pure joy to see dreams come true one after the other in tearful succession for hours on end. It’s warranted to think whatever you wish about professional athletes – how they’re overpaid, arrogant, disproportionately lauded. That’s understandable and occasionally true. But at the heart of every professional athlete is a kid who had a big dream and worked relentlessly to achieve it, and that’s what you see on stage at Radio City Music hall each spring. I love it.
And third, now the projections that actually matter can begin. Instead of wondering how so-and-so might contribute to such-and-such a team if he’s drafting in this-or-that round, you can put names on the jerseys and speculate about impact on the lineup. That’s the kind of projecting I can get on board with.
It really is a great weekend for all involved.
So, how does it work? We know that players get added to teams over the course of multiple rounds, but how? Let’s answer a few of the foundational questions today:
The draft is a rotating player selection process which exists to give all teams an equal chance at procuring the players they need. There are seven rounds of selection that take place over the course of three days in April at the Radio City Music Hall in NYC.
Questions and Answers:
Q: Who can get drafted?
A: Players who have been out of high school for at least three years, which means nearly all of whom are college juniors, are eligible to be drafted. That doesn’t mean that the draft is comprised entirely of college juniors; a surprising majority of college players choose to stay and play out their senior year.
Q: What determines the order of the picks?
A: The worse your season, the better your draft order. The team with the worst record gets the first pick, followed the by teams with the worst records who did not make the playoffs, followed by the least successful playoff teams. Consequently, the Super Bowl champion gets the last pick in the draft. In the event of shared win-loss records, draft order is determined by 1) strength of schedule, 2) division record, 3) conference records, 4) coin toss. The order stays mostly the same for every round (teams within the same “tier” of win-loss records do cycle, but stay within the same general area of picks), until teams start trading picks during the draft to get a player they want (more on that below). To see this year’s draft order, check out this list.
Q: How long do teams have to make their selection?
It differs in every round. In Round 1, teams get a lengthy 10 minutes to make their decision. That time gets shortened to 7 minutes in Round 2, and 5 minutes in Rounds 3-7.
Q: How do teams “trade up” for a player?
A: Teams can trade picks before and during the draft. Before the draft, teams trade picks for existing players. You’ve probably heard of this over the course of the offseason: Alex Smith was traded by the 49ers to the Chiefs for a second round pick this year and a conditional (based on how many games the Chiefs win) third round pick next year; Anquan Boldin was traded to the Niners for a sixth round pick; the Vikings got an incredible deal when they traded Percy Harvin to the Seahawks in exchange for Seattle’s first and seventh round picks this year and a possible mid-round pick next year.
During the draft, teams can call other teams and trade with them – a single pick or multiple picks, this year and/or in following years – to trade up to the spot they want. In 2011, the Atlanta Falcons infamously (and to much criticism) traded three picks in 2011 and two picks in 2012 – including their first round pick – the the Cleveland Browns so that they could move up to the sixth spot and take wide receiver Julio Jones.
You might say it’s worked out well for them.
Q: What is “cap management” and how does it relate to the draft?
A: That’s an excellent question for which I do not have an excellent answer. Math has never been my strongest suit to begin with, and the convoluted nuances of the NFL salary cap don’t help matters much. There are conditions for this and conditions for that and sometimes an amount of money actually counts for more or less than the numerical amount – it’s a jungle out there. But here’s what I can tell you, in short: the salary cap is like a budget, and each team has a finite spending limit. In 2013, the salary cap is set at $123 million dollars (don’t we all have that in pocket change?). That money isn’t used exclusively to draft new players – it’s the whole sum paid out to all players on the active roster. Teams have to budget wisely (or practice good “cap management”) throughout the year to retain their best current players and to also have the resources to pay players they want to add to the roster in the draft and throughout free agency. Take a look at this list to see how much cap space each team has left going into the draft (and notice the wide discrepancy in amounts!).
Q: What’s a compensatory pick?
A: The NFL awards compensatory picks – 32 total, and up to 4 additional draft picks per team – to teams that have lost significant talent through the free agency season. Free agents are players who are no longer under contract with their current team and are therefore allowed to sign with another team. When a teams loses their top free agents, they are given compensatory picks as a talent buffer (the picks occur in specified rounds and cannot be traded). 2013 Example: the Ravens, who lost what felt like the majority of their starting lineup this offseason, were awarded 4 compensatory picks, the maximum amount allowed.
Q: What’s a “war room” and what in the world does it have to do with the draft?
The war room is the place where each teams selected draft personnel – coaches, executives, general managers, owners, etc – hammer out their final decisions on draft picks and submit their picks to the NFL. It’s nicknamed the “war room” because of the intensity and strategy involved in getting the players the teams wants. For a great read on what goes on inside war rooms, check out this piece by Andrew Brandt about the Packers’ war room.
Q: Is there a limit to how many players a team can draft?
No; a team can draft as many players as they have picks, and can bring as many as 90 players into training camp to tryout for the final 53-man roster.
Q: What happens to the players who don’t get drafted?
Players who don’t get drafted are deemed “undrafted free agents” and can tryout for any team who will give them a chance after the draft. It’s easy to think that these players aren’t as good as the players who were drafted, but that’s not always the case. In fact, some of the best players to ever play the game were snubbed in the draft: Kurt Warner, James Harrison, Jeff Saturday, London Fletcher, Arian Foster, and Wes Welker are just a few of the notable players who’ve gone undrafted.
Q: Historically, how do draft picks usually pan out? Are there “good” and “bad” drafts? Are the first round picks the only ones who really make it in the league?
Great questions! Tune in for Thursday’s History Lesson post on draft history to learn all about memorable NFL drafts.