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A Bluffer’s Guide to... the NFL draft

American football’s lockout is over – for now- and attention turns to this week’s NFL draft. But what is it?

Image: PA

What the hell is it?

The NFL draft is an annual three-day event in which all 32 teams of the National Football League select eligible college players to join their organisation.

It is the largest and most lucrative player recruitment system in the game, with no less than 250 players turning professional.

Only players who have been out of high school for more than two-and-a-half years are eligible to throw their name into the hat. It’s usually players who have completed a few years of college football and have competed in the NCAA Division 1.

The draft consists mainly of athletes who are in their third- or fourth-year of college, however players occasionally declare for the draft while in second year – if they think they’re good enough.

Who gets to pick who?

The draft lasts for seven rounds, each with 32 picks. The draft order is determined by how well each team did in their previous NFL season. Unless there is an expansion team (a brand new NFL organisation), the team with the worst record in the league will receive the very first pick in the draft and therefore have the choosing of every player who has declared for the draft.

Last season, the Carolina Panthers finished with the worst overall record (2-14) and thus have the #1 pick in this year’s draft.

This ordering system helps level the playing field for the teams who tend to struggle, putting them in a position to select the best available college players.

For example the St Louis Rams, having had a 1-15 record in the 2009 season, used their number one pick in the 2010 draft to select star quarterback Sam Bradford. The Rams improved immensely with Bradford in the team, finishing with a 7-8 record last season.

The team with the best record, or in other words the team who won the Super Bowl, have the last pick in the first round. Overall there will be around 254 selections in the draft.

Does the draft order always stay the same?

Easy so far, eh? Well things tend to get a little confusing when teams start trading their picks willy-nilly.

Teams have the right to swaps their selections with other teams up to and during the draft, often trading players for picks, including selections in player trade deals and just swapping one pick for another, occasionally selections in future drafts.

For example, as things stand, the New England Patriots have two first-round draft picks and another two second-round picks, putting them in a position to strengthen their roster significantly ahead of the new season.

By the end of the draft, the order will be nearly unrecognisable to the order at the beginning.

How does the labour dispute affect this year’s Draft?

TheScore’s NFL columnist Steven O’ Rourke has covered the NFL lockout dispute in the past, but in terms of affecting this year’s draft it doesn’t have too much of an impact.

Thanks to a provision in the expired Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), teams will be happy that the draft is actually going ahead. However they are not allowed to offer their picks contracts or even get in touch with their new players until the labour dispute is resolved.

Teams are also banned from trading picks for players, while trading drafted players is also prohibited. A few years ago San Diego (who had selected Eli Manning first) and the Giants (who had picked Philip Rivers fourth) completed a draft-day trade, meaning the players would instead end up going to the opposite side of the United States. There will be no such movement this week.

What happened last year?

Last year was a relatively successful draft year for those who had high picks. As I mentioned above, the Rams took Sam Bradford at number one and the Oklahoma quarterback performed terrifically in his rookie year.

The second player to be drafted was Ndamukong Suh to the Detroit Lions, and the super tough defensive tackle was one of the performing defensive players last season.

The Denver Broncos shocked everyone when they picked Tim Tebow 25th in the first round. Tebow is regarded as one of the greatest college football players of all time, but many questioned his ability to convert his performances to the NFL and wondered how his throwing style would fare in the professional game. So far, it could turn out to be a very shrewd pick from the Broncos.

Can I see the draft?

Fortunately for us, the NFL have made the draft a televised event and ESPN UK will be showcasing the first round on Thursday night (or Friday morning) at 2am.

If you plan on vegging out in front of the Royal Wedding this Friday, there’ll be no worries about the prospect of work in a few hours, or if you have the bonus of Sky+ you can record and catch all the action over the weekend.

The Draft may sound unappealing to actually stay up and watch live, but the first few picks of the draft always prove to be interesting viewing – this year more than others. Who will the Panthers pick first? Where will Cam Newton end up? How many quarterbacks will be picked in the first round?

These are all huge questions just waiting to be answered in an un-missable occasion for NFL fans.

The 2011 NFL draft kicks-off at 2am on Friday morning, ESPN UK.

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About the author:

Kevin Coleman

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