How NFL Draft Order Is Determined

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The NFL draft is a process that gives teams in the league a chance to choose players, generally those coming out of college. The draft ultimately determines—probably more than any other aspect of the game—which teams succeed, make it to the playoff and even to the Super Bowl. "No league’s draft is more integral to a franchise’s success than the NFL’s," says Steven Ruiz, writing on "USA Today" Sports. If you are truly a fan, it's vital to know how the NFL draft works. Read on to find out.

Assigning Draft Picks

"Terry Bradshaw, Earl Campbell, Bruce Smith and Andrew Luck have at least two things in common: They are NFL superstars, and they were all No. 1 picks in the first round of the NFL Draft," says, the league's official website.

"Each of the 32 clubs receives one pick in each of the seven rounds of the NFL draft," the NFL explains. The selection order is determined by the reverse order of how teams finished the previous season. So, the team that finished last in the league last year picks first in the draft, the team that finished second-to-last picks second and so on. 

Additional rules apply if expansion—or new—teams are coming into the league and if two or more teams are tied in terms of winning percentage. After all 32 NFL teams have made a pick, it's considered the end of one round.

First Round

If there is an expansion team, it selects first. If there is more than one expansion team, a coin flip determines who picks first. If there are no expansion teams, the team with the lowest winning percentage at the end of the previous season drafts first. All other teams that fail to make the playoffs are then placed in order from the lowest to the highest winning percentage.

Next come the teams who were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, placed in order from lowest winning percentage to the highest (based on their regular-season record), followed by those eliminated in the second round, again placed in order from lowest winning percentage to highest.

After the above teams are placed, the losers of the conference championship games take the next two spots with the team with the lowest winning percentage during the regular season placed ahead of the other. The Super Bowl loser drafts next to last. The Super Bowl winner drafts last.

Rounds 2 to 7

In subsequent rounds, teams with the same record rotate draft positions regardless of whether they made the playoffs. The only exceptions are the Super Bowl teams, which always pick last.

The strength of schedule for the previous season is the first tie-breaker for teams with the same winning percentage. The team with the lowest strength of schedule percentage wins the tiebreaker and picks ahead of all other teams with the same record.

Divisional and conference records are the next step in the tie-breaking procedure. As a last resort, a coin toss is used to determine the order of selection for teams with the same winning percentage.