Pro Football Draft History: The 1930s

The 1930'sPrior 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.

Click the year icon below to get more information on that individual draft.


1936The NFL draft is born in a Philadelphia hotel as teams gather to select the best players from the college ranks. Ironically, the first player ever drafted: Jay Berwanger from the University of Chicago, decides not to play professional football at all.
1937The start of a new era in offensive football is born when the Washington Redskins select Slingin’ Sammy Baugh with the 6th pick. Baugh will revolutionize the NFL’s passing game during a career that lasts through 1952.
1938With the seventh pick, the Green Bay Packers take Purdue quarterback Cecil Isbell. One year later, he will guide the Packers to the NFL title. In five seasons with the Pack, Cecil will lead the league in passing twice and throws a total of 61 TDs.
1939The Chicago Bears build through the draft with two picks among the top six. With those selections, the “Monsters of the Midway” add Hall of Fame quarterback Sid Luckman and back Bill Osmanski to their roster. With the two, the Bears capture NFL championships in 1940, 1941, 1943, and 1946.

1930's Draft Notes

 Heisman Trophy winner Jay Berwanger, the first player ever selected, chose not to play pro football. Riley Smith, taken second overall by the Boston Redskins, holds the distinction of being the first drafted player to play in the NFL.

 Legendary college coach Paul “Bear” Bryant was the fourth-round pick of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1936. He, too, never played pro ball.

 The Pittsburgh Pirates selected Byron “Whizzer” White in the first round of the 1938 draft. White, who earned two rushing titles in his three-year pro career, later became a United States Supreme Court Justice.