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It’s April, and if you’re not excited about that, there’s something wrong. There’s Game of Thrones, the Avengers, and most importantly, the NFL Draft.

If you’re newer to the sport of American Football, or – understandably – a big NFL fan who just hasn’t previously got into the Draft, it can be quite difficult to keep up with people talking about it and making comments or predictions which you don’t understand.

The draft is taking place from the 25th of April to the 27th of April, so you have plenty of time left to prepare to watch it!

This article is a simple guide to explain what you need to know to keep track of what’s going on and understand what’s happening during the draft and give you a base of knowledge to build on more if you want to. So – let’s get into it.

What is the NFL Draft?

The draft for the NFL is simply the way that new, young players enter the league. They have played at college, and now they have ‘declared’ and will be entering the National Football League through the draft system.
Declaring for the draft basically just mean that they want to leave college and join the NFL, (they don’t have to wait until they have finished their full time at college if they’re ready.)

All 32 teams get draft picks to choose which players they would like to add to their team, and there are seven rounds of these picks in the draft, taking place across the three days.

Draft Picks

These picks, all 254 of them if you were trying to do the maths, are distributed evenly [at first] to the 32 teams, meaning that every team starts with seven draft picks to improve their team.

The draft order is dynamic, however, and is dictated by the performance of the teams in the season prior. This part is important.

The draft pick order is dictated by reversing the order of the final standings of the NFL season. The New England Patriots have the last pick of the draft because they won the Super Bowl, and the Arizona Cardinals have the first pick, after a terrible 3-13 season, for example.

The reason for this is simply to give the worst teams the best chance to get the best new players. If you have a bad season, you probably don’t have the best team – so let’s give you a better chance to pick someone to make that roster better.

Teams analyse the college prospects and then select the players who they think are the best, but also who are the most useful for their own team’s needs.

Trading Picks – Pre-Draft

The draft order is set after the season ends, and so the order (which repeats the same every round) is ready in advance for the draft. There is, however, more to it than simply following the order which is dictated by reversing the rankings – picks, like players, can be traded between teams.

First, let’s look at trades which happen before the draft. Any NFL team owns 7 picks in every draft, every year, and these are assets which can be included in transactions for players or other picks. Any pick which is within the next two drafts is capable of being traded and can be valued into trades based on how high a pick they are.

The best case study to demonstrate this is the Oakland Raiders. Before last season began, they traded Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears for two first round picks (one this year and one next year) and they traded Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys mid-season, which gave them another first-round pick.
Now, the Raiders have their own pick (#4) and picks #24 and #27 courtesy of those two trade partner teams respectively. The Bears and Cowboys now have the players, but Oakland instead have picks to draft new college prospects.

Trades like these are the reason that teams don’t all have the same number of picks and each round isn’t the same.

If you’re confused by the transactions, think of a draft pick more as the ability to take a player than a number. The Raiders have the #4 pick in the draft, but what that really represents is the ability to draft whoever they want from the hundreds of available prospects, once only three people have been taken beforehand. This naturally gives a great opportunity for them to take the best (it isn’t that simple, of course) players.

The Value of these Picks

Why would you rather have picks than players? You should be asking. The reason is to fill holes in your team.

Having three picks in the first round is incredibly rare and gives a very good opportunity to Oakland for them to bring in multiple very beneficial assets to their struggling roster.

As I just explained, the higher the pick, the better, because it gives you a chance at a player that you think is more talented, or a better fit. Less people going before this player means that they should be better than someone picked two rounds later. Naturally, this creates an inherent value for a draft pick. A pick which is earlier in the draft is worth more, and the later picks gradually reduce in their value (because they reduce the likelihood mathematically of picking a great player).

There is a caveat to this, though, not all teams are looking for the same thing.

Not only in terms of the players they want or the positions they need, but also in the scale of quality vs quantity.

It is very important for some teams to have a high pick, to acquire that one franchise-player that they need, [often a Quarterback], whereas other teams would rather have multiple picks and take players who aren’t (in theory) as good individually, but to fill more holes in the team. When you are one of the teams who want more picks, you can often trade one pick which is higher up for two that are lower down, or something along those lines.

Trading picks – Mid-Draft

Here comes the fun bit.

The type of trade which I just described often happens during the draft itself.
In the time that a team is allowed to make their pick (this time is 10 full minutes during the first round and, although it reduces, is at least 4-minutes for every pick) teams also have the opportunity to communicate with each other to trade.

There are two sides to trade in the draft: trading up and trading down.

A trade-up is where a team comes up higher in the draft order to pick a player that they want, from a pick which is higher than the pick which they had next.

A trade-down is where they instead decide that they would rather move further down in the order to have more picks instead of selecting at the one they were on the clock to pick.

Example: Last year the Oakland Raiders (who did not want a Quarterback) ‘traded-down’ (or traded ‘back’) from the 10th pick. The Arizona Cardinals sent them the 15th pick, the 79th pick (3rd-round pick) and the 152nd pick (5th-round pick). The Cardinals then selected Josh Rosen, a new franchise – they’d hoped – Quarterback.

The above example shows perfectly how this partnership in a trade operates. The Cardinals wanted a new QB, and this position is incredibly important and valuable. They had already watched as multiple Quarterbacks were taken in the draft, with three of them being taken in just seven picks. The Cardinals’ 15th pick was on the wrong side of the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins who could both have potentially taken a QB, so Arizona decided to trade up, and gave three picks to the Raiders, to move up just five places, to make sure they definitely got their favourite player.

The key thing to understand about mid-draft trades is that both sides are satisfied. If you want to move back, you will do it by finding someone who wants to move forward.

Just because a team wants to trade-down though, doesn’t mean that they won’t want to get good value for their pick, so bear in mind the value of picks which I explained earlier.

Who to draft?

When drafting there are many important factors which you need to take into consideration and understanding these makes it much easier to understand and enjoy watching or keeping track of the Draft.

The first and most obvious thing is who is available in the draft at the time of your pick, and who has already gone. Sometimes this is quite predictable, but the further through the draft you go, the deeper in the list of prospects you will go to find who you want to pick. There is always a natural tension and excitement in wondering if the guy you want (/ who you hope your team takes) is going to make it to your next pick.

The next key thing is one which you’ll hear getting talked about a lot during the draft coverage, which is the element of ‘Team Needs’. If your team wants a Quarterback, and that is your number-one priority above all else, you’re going to have to spend up on it, and go get your guy, so that’s where you get trade-ups etc. However, team needs influence every one of your picks (usually), and not just when you’re deciding to trade.
If there are a few different players who are all very good, you can easily draft whichever one is at a position you need more, and it isn’t such a difficult decision – it’s when there’s a talent disparity that you have to make a tough pick.

There will sometimes be picks where there is a very good player available, whether they have fallen further in the draft than you thought or you have a high pick, but you don’t think they are at a position that you need.
This is likely a position at which you would consider trading back, however, if you make the pick, you now have to decide whether their talent is just too good to turn down, or whether to fill a positional need instead and let someone else get the other player.

One final thing which I think it is essential to understand about who is being drafted is the context of picks. This will be something that requires a bit of understanding, but it will come over time. This is what makes watching the draft exciting and entertaining.
If the Arizona Cardinals draft Nick Bosa with the #1 pick this year, that’s an exciting pick not just because a very talented player is being taken, but because it means that the best Quarterback in the draft, Kyler Murray, is going to start moving down the draft board. People sliding down the board is exciting of itself, and waiting to see if they’re going to finally go, or if someone is going to trade-up to catch them as they fall, etc.

These storylines need an article to themselves, really, and maybe I’ll write one, but make sure you pay attention when the people covering the draft talk about those who are still around when they were projected to go much higher, or similar storylines.

My biggest piece of advice though… If you have any questions about the draft, don’t be scared to ask people! Whether you don’t know when it’s your team’s pick, or you aren’t sure who you want them to get / what they need, just ask. You can comment on a post, tweet someone, or just ask a friend who is into the draft. It’s really fun to talk about, and if you learn more about it, it is genuinely exciting to watch, especially if you stay up nice and late for the first round.

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