By William Hill
Last Updated: 7th January 2020
If you haven’t heard of the collegiate draft system in American sports, prepare for an alien education in this NFL draft primer. In the UK, our sports teams develop academies and recruit from within. In the US, it’s an entirely different proposition, where professional sports pluck players from the enormously popular college leagues. NFL scouts watch college football even more than the typical armchair sports fan, and that’s saying something. Even football fans don’t purely watch it for the sheer excitement (that’s part of it, of course), but also to preview the NFL superstars of tomorrow.
Where and when is it?
On April 26, 2018, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, 32 NFL teams will select the next crop of players to become the potential faces of their respective franchises. The event is held over three days, with round one taking place on day one, rounds two and three on day two, and the remaining rounds on day three.
When did it all start?
The first NFL draft was held way back in 1936, when each team’s picks were noted on a chalkboard. It wasn’t even televised until 1980. These days, you can find the opening of a cardboard box on a cable channel somewhere.
How does it work?
There are seven rounds in the draft, with each team assigned one pick per round. The team that finished the previous season with the lowest win-loss record is awarded the highest pick in each round, and so on. The Super Bowl champion, therefore, picks last. It’s arranged this way to promote fair competition and to give every team a chance. Maybe somebody needs to tell the New England Patriots that.
Is it really that simple?
It can get more complicated than that and no NFL draft primer would be complete without talking about trades. Each team has a right to trade with another to acquire a higher draft pick. Negotiations often take place behind the scenes in the lead up to the draft, as well as on draft day itself. A team can trade a player for a pick/s, trade multiple of their picks for a higher/lower pick/s, or a combination thereof. Some of the biggest trades are typically made on the day, and often involve a quarterback, with a QB-hungry team doing everything they can to get one of the best passers in the draft. For anyone who’s seen the film Draft Day, you’ll have some understanding of just how complicated this can get.
Which players are eligible?
For a player to be draft eligible, he needs to be at least three years removed from high school, and have used up his college eligibility. College players can apply for early entry into the draft, but the league must approve their request. Prior to the draft, the NFL confirms eligibility for each candidate after researching typically over 3000 players. The NFL works with schools, agents, and teams, in order to verify any information they’ve been given for each prospect.
Who are this year’s top prospects?
Now you know what the NFL draft is and how it works, let’s turn our attention to this year’s event. The 2018 NFL Draft is said to feature the best crop of quarterbacks since 1983, for all of you initiated who are old enough to remember. That year saw the selection of now-Hall of Famers Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, and John Elway. Now, let’s look at the players with the biggest potential to make their mark on the NFL, starting with the 2018-19 season.
Sam Darnold, QB, USC
For those teams that like a strong-armed QB with athleticism, they will be only too aware of Sam Darnold. His leadership and command may put him in a class all of his own. He took over a 1-2 Trojans team in 2016 and went on to help them turn the season around, winning nine in a row, including a Rose Bowl. His game isn’t perfect- his elongated delivery hasn’t gone unnoticed- but he isn’t exciting multiple NFL executives around the league for nothing. All but one are likely wasting their time and salivations, however, as he’s almost certain to be picked with the No. 1 selection by the QB-hungry Cleveland Browns.
Sam Darnold is almost certain to be picked with the No. 1 selection by the QB-hungry Cleveland Browns
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Rosen’s school career was accompanied by endless hype, and he delivered in spades, in what was a very promising freshman season for the Bruins. Catching the attention of college rivals and NFL scouts alike, with his outspoken and confident approach, as well as his savvy arm, he wasn’t called “Chosen Rosen” for nothing. It’s that outspokenness that has rung alarm bells for some of the more cautious NFL teams, however; largely due to his anti-Trump sentiments. His comments may put off teams concerned over potential political backbiting in the locker room. Controversy aside, Rosen is considered to be the most pro-ready QB of the group.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
While tempting to continue talking about QBs, it’s fair to mention some of the more promising prospects in other positions, and it doesn’t get much bigger than Saquon Barkley. There are some fine backs coming out of this year’s draft, including Nick Chubb from Georgia, Bo Scarborough from Alabama, and Derrius Guice from LSU. Barkley, however, has consistently looked like the standout from this group. He eludes defenders like no other backs at this level, and generates huge plays almost entirely on his own.
Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen are other QBs likely to be drafted early, while fellow passers Mason Rudolph and Lamar Jackson are also expected to be taken in the first round. Mayfield is another controversial figure, with infamous incidents including grabbing his crotch after throwing a three-yard TD against Kansas. Defensive End Bradley Chubb is believed to be a target for the New York Giants with the second overall pick, after the Giants traded Jason Pierre-Paul, opening up a need at the position.
So now you’ve had an NFL draft primer and you know who the key prospects are, you can feast on all of the mock drafts and rumours leading up to the event itself. There’s just one question remaining: who will your team target on April 26?