Football Ops

Football Ops

Protecting the integrity of the greatest game.

NFL Ops: Honoring the Game

It's our responsibility to strengthen the sport.

League Governance

Ensuring a consistent and fair game that is decided on the field, by the players.

NFL Rules Enforcement

Ensuring that players conduct themselves in a way that honors the sport and respects the game.

Fines & Appeals

The NFL's schedule of infractions and fines, and a process for appeal.

Economic & Social Impact

Honoring the league’s commitment to serve the communities where the game is played.

The NFL Ops Team

Meet the people behind NFL Operations.

The Game

The Game

Learn about the people, the jobs and the technology that deliver the best game possible to NFL fans across the U.S. and around the world. 

Gameday: Behind the Scenes

Countdown to kickoff: how NFL games happen.

Technology

In the NFL, balancing technology with tradition.

Impact of Television

How television has changed the game.

History of Instant Replay

Upon further review…

Creating the NFL Schedule

It takes hundreds of computers and four NFL executives to create the NFL's 256-game masterpiece.

The Players

The Players

Learn how NFL players have changed over time, how they’re developed and drafted and how the league works with them after their playing days are over.  

Evolution of the NFL Player

Creating an NFL player: from “everyman” to “superman.”

Development Pipeline

Supporting the next generation of players and fans.

Getting Into the Game

Preparing players of all ages for success at football’s highest level.

The NFL Draft

Introducing the next wave of NFL superstars. 

NFL Player Engagement

A look at the programs the NFL and its partners provide to help every player before, during and after his football career.

NFL Legends Community

Celebrating, educating, embracing and connecting all former NFL players with each other, their former teams and the league.

The Officials

The Officials

Discover the evolution of professional officiating, the weekly evaluation process and how the NFL identifies and develops the next generation of officials.

In Focus: History of the Official

“One thing hasn’t changed: the pressure. It will always be there.”

Inside NFL GameDay Central

The latest information from the NFL's officiating command center.

These Officials Are Really Good

Every week, officials take the field ready to put months of preparation, training and hard work on display, knowing that the whole world — and the Officiating Department — is watching.

Officiating Development

Officiating an NFL game takes years of training and experience. 

The Rules

The Rules

NFL Football Operations protects the integrity of the game by ensuring that the rules and the officiating are consistent and fair to all competitors.

In Focus: Evolution of the NFL Rules

The custodians of football not only have protected its integrity, but have also revised its playing rules to protect the players, and to make the games fairer and more entertaining.

2016 NFL Rulebook

Explore the official rules of the game.

NFL Video Rulebook

NFL SVP of Officiating Dean Blandino explains NFL rules with video examples.

2016 Rules Changes and Points of Emphasis

NFL Overtime Rules

NFL Tiebreaking Procedures

The NFL's procedures for breaking ties for postseason playoffs.

Signals Intelligence

The NFL's familiar hand signals help fans better understand the game.   

Stats Central

Stats Central

Go inside the game with the NFL's official game stats.  Sort the stats by season or by week.

Chart The Data

Chart and compare the NFL Football Operations stats you're looking for with the NFL's data tool. 

Weekly Dashboard

Get a snapshot of the current NFL game stats, updated weekly during the regular season.

The Rules of the Draft

Which team will go first? How long does each team have to make its pick? Who is eligible to be drafted? The NFL has specific rules for each part of the draft process.

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.
Peyton Manning, left, was selected in the first round with the first overall pick of the 1998 NFL Draft. Tom Brady, right, was selected in the sixth round with the 199th overall pick in the 2000 draft. 

Peyton Manning, left, was selected in the first round with the first overall pick of the 1998 NFL Draft. Tom Brady, right, was selected in the sixth round with the 199th overall pick in the 2000 draft. 

Bart Starr, Deacon Jones, Terrell Davis and Tom Brady also have at least two things in common: They too are among the league’s biggest stars, and they were selected in late rounds of the NFL Draft — Starr in the 17th, Jones in the 14th, and Davis and Brady in the sixth.

The annual NFL Draft gives the teams the opportunity to infuse their rosters with new talent. Some players will provide an instant boost to the team that selects them; others won’t. But the chance that drafted players will lead their new clubs to glory makes teams compete over talent, whether in the first round or the last.

The NFL Draft has changed as the league has grown in size and popularity. Competition for star players, both external (between the NFL and upstart leagues) and internal (among the league’s clubs), has led the league to regularly alter the draft and implement new rules and regulations to maintain fairness.

How is it determined which team will go first, how long each team has to make its pick, and who is eligible to be drafted? The NFL has specific rules for each part of the draft process.

Assigning Draft Picks


(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Currently, each of the 32 clubs receives one pick in each of the seven rounds of the NFL Draft (the number of teams drafting has changed over time, and there have been as many as 30 rounds in a single draft).

The order of selection is determined by the reverse order of finish in the previous season. Barring any trades between clubs, each round starts with the team that finished with the worst record and ends with the Super Bowl champions.

Teams that didn’t qualify for the playoffs are assigned draft slots 1-20. The order is determined by the standings at the end of the regular season: The club with the worst record will pick first, and the one with the best record will pick 20th.

Teams that did qualify for the playoffs are assigned draft slots 21-32. The order is determined by the results of the previous year’s postseason play:

  • The four teams eliminated in the wild card round pick in slots 21-24 in the reverse order of their final regular season records.
  • The four teams eliminated in the divisional round pick in slots 25-28 in the reverse order of their final regular season records.
  • The two teams that lost in the conference championships pick in the 29th and 30th spots in the reverse order of their final regular season records.
  • The team that lost the Super Bowl has the 31st pick in the draft.
  • The Super Bowl champion has the 32nd and final spot in each round.

In situations where teams finished the previous season with identical records, the determination of draft position is decided by strength of schedule — the aggregate winning percentage of a team’s opponents. The team that played the schedule with the lowest winning percentage will be awarded the higher pick.

If the teams have the same strength of schedule, their records against common opponents in their division or conference are applied, if applicable. If the divisional or conference tiebreakers are not applicable, ties will be broken by a coin flip.

COMPENSATORY PICKS

The Pittsburgh Steelers  selected Hines Ward, the MVP of Super Bowl XL, with a compensatory pick in the third round of the 1998 NFL Draft. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The Pittsburgh Steelers  selected Hines Ward, the MVP of Super Bowl XL, with a compensatory pick in the third round of the 1998 NFL Draft. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Under the terms of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, the league also can assign as many as 32 additional “compensatory free agent” picks, which allow clubs that have lost free agents to another team to use the draft to try to fill the void. The awarded picks take place at the end of the third through seventh round.

Compensatory free agents are determined by a proprietary formula, developed by the NFL Management Council, which considers a player’s salary, playing time and postseason honors.

The value of the compensatory free agents gained or lost by each team is totaled, and a team is awarded picks of equal value to the net loss of compensatory free agents, up to a maximum of four.

Starting in 2017, compensatory picks may be traded.

Draft Rules and Process

The NFL Draft takes place over three days (Thursday through Saturday) each spring.

Only the first round is held on Thursday. It starts at 8 p.m. Eastern time, and each team has 10 minutes to make its pick. The second and third rounds are on Friday; rounds 4-7 are on Saturday. Teams get seven minutes to make picks in the second round and five minutes in rounds 3-6. Teams only have four minutes for their seventh round and compensatory draft picks. If a team lets its time expire without making a choice, it can make a selection later — but it runs the risk of letting the next team on the clock take the player it was considering.

Every team has a table set up at the draft venue, where team representatives stay in constant contact with executives at each club’s headquarters. When a team decides on a selection, it communicates the player’s name from its draft room to its representatives at Selection Square. The team representative then writes the player’s name, position and school on a card and submits it to an NFL staff member known as a runner.

When the runner gets the card, the selection is official, and the draft clock is reset for the next pick. A second runner goes to the representatives of the team up next and lets them know who was chosen.

Upon receiving the card, the first runner immediately radios the selection to a NFL Player Personnel representative, who inputs the player’s name into a database that notifies all clubs of the pick. The runner also walks the card to the head table, where it’s given to Ken Fiore, vice president of player personnel.

Fiore reviews the name for accuracy and records the pick. He then shares the name with the NFL’s broadcast partners, the commissioner and other league or team representatives so they can announce the pick.

The New Orleans Saints traded a total of eight future draft picks in 1999 and 2000 to Washington to get Ricky Williams, the 1998 Heisman Trophy winner. (AP Photo/Suzanne Plunkett)

The New Orleans Saints traded a total of eight future draft picks in 1999 and 2000 to Washington to get Ricky Williams, the 1998 Heisman Trophy winner. (AP Photo/Suzanne Plunkett)

Trades

Once teams are assigned their draft positions, each pick is an asset: It’s up to the club’s executives to either select a player or trade the pick to another team to improve its position in the current or future drafts. Teams may negotiate trades at any time before and during the draft and can swap draft picks or current NFL players to whom they hold the rights.

When teams agree to a trade during the draft, both clubs call the head table, where Fiore and staff monitor the league’s phones. Each team must relay the same trade information to the league to have a trade approved.

Once a trade is approved, a Player Personnel representative gives the details to the league’s broadcast partners and to all 32 clubs. A league official announces the trade in the draft venue for media and fans.

Player Eligibility

To be eligible for the draft, players must have been out of high school for at least three years and must have used up their college eligibility before the start of the next college football season. Underclassmen and players who have graduated before using all their college eligibility may request the league’s approval to enter the draft early.

Players are draft-eligible only in the year after the end of their college eligibility. 

Before the draft, NFL Player Personnel staff members confirm the eligibility of all draft prospects; for the 2016 draft, that meant researching more than 3,000 college players in 2015. They work with NCAA compliance departments at schools across the country to verify the information for all prospects. They also check the rosters of college all-star games to make sure that only draft-eligible players play in the games.

The Player Personnel staff also review all of the applications submitted by players who want to enter the draft early. Underclassmen have until Jan. 18 to declare their intentions to do so. For the 2016 NFL Draft, 96 undergraduates received NFL approval to enter the draft, as did 11 players who graduated without using up all their college eligibility.

Once players have become draft-eligible or have declared their intention to enter the draft early, the Player Personnel staff work with teams, agents and schools to clarify the players’ status. They also work with agents, schools, scouts and teams to enforce league rules for Pro Days (where NFL scouts come to colleges to observe prospects) and private workouts.

During the draft, Player Personnel staff confirm that all players who are drafted are draft-eligible.

Supplemental Draft

In July, the league may hold one supplemental draft for players whose eligibility has changed since the NFL Draft. A player may not bypass the NFL Draft to be eligible for the supplemental draft. Teams do not have to participate in the supplemental draft; if they choose to do so, they may bid for the player by telling the league the round in which they would like to take a specific player. If no other club bids on that player, they are awarded the player and lose a pick in the following year’s NFL Draft that corresponds with the round in which they were awarded the player. If multiple teams submit bids for the player, the highest bidder is awarded that player and loses the corresponding draft pick.

The process for adding new players from college has changed dramatically since the first draft in 1936. The stakes are significantly higher now, and the league has instituted a more formal process to ensure equity among all 32 clubs.

A successful draft can forever change the trajectory of a franchise. Teams do their best to predict how a player will perform at the game’s highest level, but any draft pick can turn into an NFL legend. Perhaps this year a player taken in the sixth round will become the next Tom Brady.

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