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How is the draft order decided in the NFL? Why is there no lottery like in the NBA?

From its ordering, to the lack of a lottery system like the NBA, the NFL’s Draft is critical in its importance. Here’s how it works and why it’s like that.

From its ordering, to the lack of a lottery system like the NBA, the NFL’s Draft is critical in its importance. Here’s how it works and why it’s like that.

NFL Draft 2024 live online: First-round picks, teams, players and big board updates

With the dust finally settled after the Chiefs’ second consecutive Super Bowl triumph, eyes now turn to the NFL Draft as teams prepare for the challenge of the new season and building a successful future.

The attention this year, it seems, is fully on Caleb Williams, who could well be on his way to the Chicago Bears, with Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye, and J.J. McCarthy expected to be the big movers in the first round.

The 2024 NFL Draft will be broadcast on ESPN, ABC, and NFL Network, and will be held around Campus Martius Park and Hart Plaza in Detroit, Michigan, with around 400,000 people expected to visit the city for the action.

Yet, exactly how is the Draft order decided in the league and why don’t they have a lottery system in the same way that the NBA does? Let’s find out.

How is the NFL Draft ordered?

As you know, there are 32 teams in the NFL and every team receives one pick in each of the seven rounds of the NFL Draft. The order in which the teams pick is the opposite of the order in which they finished the previous season. Simply put, the team with the worst record picks first, while the team with the best record - the Super Bowl champions - pick last, the Chiefs getting that ‘honor’ twice in succession. The 20 teams that didn’t make the playoffs receive the Nos. 1-20 picks in the draft.

The remaining 12 teams who played postseason football, see their draft order determined by the results in the postseason and the regular season. The four teams that were eliminated in the Wild Card round receive picks 21-24; the four teams eliminated in the Divisional Round receive picks 25-28; the two teams eliminated in the conference championship receive picks 29 and 30; and the team who lost the Super Bowl receives the 31st pick with the winner receiving the last pick at 32.

For those teams with picks 21-30, the order is from worst to best record in the regular season. There are of course other factors to consider when it comes to the Draft order, but these are the basics.

Why doesn’t the NFL use a lottery system like the NBA?

The simple answer is that the NFL wishes to maintain the integrity of the regular season and the competitive balance of the league. As mentioned above, the order in which a team picks in the draft is inherently connected to its standing in the previous campaign. Now, while one might think that could lead to ‘tanking’ as we’ve seen in recent times in the NBA, it actually doesn’t.

The first reason being the significantly shorter length of the season. With only 18 games played, most teams are still in contention for a playoff spot in Week 12. Then, we’ve got the fact that simply adding one or two stars to the roster out of the Draft can’t turn a team into contenders.

Consider the Jaguars who have picked in the top 5 for several seasons and are yet to make any headway. Now, consider the Patriots who have picked in the top 20 maybe five times since the turn of the century and have won several Super Bowls in that time.

Ultimately, the league doesn’t use a lottery system because as is the case with any lottery they can be subject to manipulation. There are in fact countless rumors and stories of the corruption that takes place in the NBA’s lottery, a story for another time.