NFL Draft History

NFL Draft History


It All Began in the 1930s

Prior to the inaugural National Football League draft in 1936, players were free to sign with any club. This tended to make the stronger teams even stronger and created much disparity in the NFL. On may 19, 1935, the league owners adopted a plan for a college player draft. Proposed by Bert Bell, the Eagles owner and future NFL commissioner, the plan called for teams to select players in inverse order of their finish the previous season.

The first draft had nine rounds and was increased to 10 in 1937. It was expanded to 20 rounds in 1939. Adding a twist to the procedure in 1938 and 1939, only the five teams that finished lowest in the previous season were permitted to make selections in the second and fourth rounds.


The NFL faced competition in drafting for the first time when the All-America Football Conference came onto the pro football scene in the latter part of the decade. The NFL also added a bonus selection - the first pick overall - in 1947. -


The idea of the bonus pick, which began in 1947, ran full cycle and was abandoned after the 1958 draft. By that time, each team in the league had been awarded the first overall pick in the annual draft, and teams resumed picking in reverse order of league standing. 


The draft became the battleground for a war between the National Football League and American Football League. The rival leagues held separate drafts through 1966 before holding joint drafts from 1967-1969. When the leagues merged at the end of the decade, the draft rivalry was over, and a new rivalry, the Super Bowl, had begun.


The NFL, drafting as one unified league, eventually reduced the number of rounds to 12. The fierce competition for top talent saw the number one overall pick being secured through trades four times during the decade.


The NFL again fended off competition from a potential rival as the United States Football League attempted to tap into the talent pool in the mid-1980s. Perhaps the highlight of the decade, draft wise, came in 1983 when a rare group of college quarterbacks dominated the first round of that year’s draft.


Many of the decade’s elite teams, like so many franchises before them, have built through the draft. There may be no greater example than the Dallas Cowboys, who used multiple picks to go from a 1-15 team in 1989 to winning three Super Bowls in the 1990s.


In back-to-back drafts in the 2000s, an NFL team made trades in order to select three players in the first round. In 2000, the Jets drafted in the number 12th, 13th, and 27th spots of the first round. One year later, the St. Louis Rams had the 12th, 20th, and 29th overall picks of round number one.