The NFL Draft is the annual selection of college football players by teams. It is held in primetime at the end of April or early May, with occasional pre-draft festivities conducted in the days before the draft starts. A total of 256 draft selections are made, consisting entirely of those selected from colleges and universities across North America. The NFL draft now includes ten rounds; in 2017, it lasted seven games each day and began at 7:00 PM EST on Thursday (rounds 1 thru 3), Friday (rounds 4 thru 7), Saturday (games 8 thru 10).
The NFL Draft is also known informally as the "NFL annual selection". In this context, "annual selection" refers to a pro sports team's performance at the draft; in this case, the team that wins each successive draft generates a more significant number of cumulative selections because each subsequent win is worth more than the previous one.
After all, teams have selected their players, and all trades have been made, each league may sign any undrafted free agents then still available. However, if two teams negotiate to sign the same player, both get only one designated free agent signing priority.
Once the draft is complete, clubs are free to negotiate with players. Unsigned players may still sign future contracts based on the terms agreed to in their rookie contracts, though none may change teams without incurring a fine and losing a year of free agency. If an undrafted player is signed to an agreement, he will receive minimum wage for six years, which can be renewed once at career minimum salary. Compensation changes for drafted players are set out in Article 42 of the CBA.
The draft consists of three days:
The first round (usually called "round one") is held on the Saturday immediately after the first weekend of regular NFL games. Since 2001, the first three rounds are held on one day (usually Thursday or Friday) and broadcast over two days, with the first round moving to the final day. The second round is held on what would be the first day of the following weekend of regular-season games, and so forth with all matches until all teams have exhausted their eight choices.
Teams are given 10 minutes to make each selection in Round 1, seven minutes per selection in Rounds 2–6, and five minutes per selection in Round 7. Teams that did not make a selection within their allotted time are automatically assigned a selection listed below. Teams that traded away their first-round pick throughout the draft losing it during the regular season are given a choice in Round 2.
The number of selections by each team ranges from 16 to as many as 32, with both the number of choices and the time allotted by the team varying year by year. The Baltimore Ravens became the most prolific drafter, with nine straight years between 2000 and 2009 making at least one selection in each round (excluding 2001). The San Francisco 49ers also have nine years between 1994 and 2003 doing the same thing. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made 14 selections in 2010, breaking their record of 13 set in 2002; however, they did so with two trades during that draft.
The format of the draft has varied over time. The first reasonably consistent draft order was established in 1967, with the league's teams arranged in a cannonball-like shape, all starting with the same number of picks and ending with the same number of choices:
The current format was established in 1994 and modified slightly in 2004; it remains essentially identical to the 1987-1994 format. The team rounding from 1 to 32 is assigned a "picks" number, while the team rounding from 1 to 31 is designated a "comps" number (which actually becomes Round 2 for teams that finish with fewer than 30 selections).
In 1994, teams were required to list players they had "drafted"; the names of their undrafted free agents were not required to be listed. Under the current format, players are only required to be listed if they receive a contract offer of at least $50,000. The NFL now publishes a complete list of all 256 draft choices on its website (although only two names are recorded for each selection, and there is no mention of whether extended UDFAs are signed with the agent).
Teams may trade away picks for future draft selections. These trades may involve either draft picks or players and include a wide variety of conditions.