We may earn commission from links on this page. Our editorial is always independent (learn more)

How does the NFL Draft 2021 work?

Your complete guide to the NFL Draft 2021 including how it works, who will be the top picks and the first round Draft order.

NFL Draft

The NFL Draft 2021 is here, with hundreds of the finest college American Football players desperately waiting by the phone, hoping for a call to join one of the 32 professional teams in the US.


Draft systems are commonplace among US sports, but rarely ever deployed across European leagues, and they seem quite unlikely to catch on this side of the Atlantic.

But that won’t stop UK fans lapping up the NFL Draft 2021, with a host of hot prospects ready to give their new teams a shot in the arm ahead of the new season.

Sky Sports is gearing up to show the whole three days of the NFL Draft live across its channels, and we’re here to help you make sense of it all.

There’s a lot to wrap your head around, but we’re going to walk you through the basics of the NFL Draft, as well as the Draft order and some of the big names to look out for during the first round.

RadioTimes.com brings you all the details on how the NFL Draft works so you can enjoy the chaos from the comfort of your own home.

How does the NFL Draft work?

The NFL Draft is a system with a twofold purpose. Firstly, it is designed to filter the best college football players into the professional NFL world.

College football is big business across the US, with stadiums topping 100,000 capacities and fans supporting their college teams in the same way UK football fans would follow their local professional team.

However, the time must come for all college players to graduate, and when they do they can choose to declare their availability in the NFL Draft.

Secondly, it seeks to balance out the league to prevent one team dominating every season.

There are 32 teams in the NFL, divided into two conferences, that are then divided into four divisions in each.

At the end of the season, all 32 teams’ win percentages are ranked in one long list of 32 teams, with the team who has suffered the worst win percentage in No.1 spot descending to the team who wins the Super Bowl in No.32. This becomes the basis of the Draft order.

By allowing the ‘worst’ team in the NFL to pick the best college players, the NFL constantly tries to rebalance itself.

This long list of 32 teams is then repeated seven times, for the seven rounds of the Draft. Each team starts with seven ‘picks’, one per round.

NFL Draft
The NFL Draft is a US sporting institution
Getty Images

The teams each have time on the clock to select one college player from the pool of names available, taking turns in the chosen order to do so, until seven rounds have passed.

Simple, right? Well, the basics are, but this is the NFL, and in the NFL, wheeling and dealing is crucial.

Some teams may prefer to trade their high draft pick for multiple lower picks.

For example, if the Atlanta Falcons were desperate for one particular quarterback who may not be on the board by the time they’re on the clock, they could trade their No.9 and No.40 overall picks to Denver Broncos for their No.4 overall pick.

This means the Falcons stand a better chance of landing their man, while the Broncos, who may not need to draft a top-four QB, would be happy to wait a few more turns and gain an extra pick in the second round (No.40).

On top of trades on the night, a number of draft picks have already been traded throughout the last few seasons for existing professional players.

For example, Detroit Lions traded their veteran star QB Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams, who gave them first round draft picks in 2022 and 2023, a third round pick in 2021, plus their own QB Jared Goff.

That means the LA Rams won’t feature in the first round of the next two NFL Drafts unless they themselves trade for picks.

That leads us nicely onto the NFL Draft order for 2021.

NFL Draft order 2021 – Round 1

  • Jacksonville Jaguars
  • New York Jets
  • San Francisco 49ers (from Miami Dolphins via Houston Texans)
  • Atlanta Falcons
  • Cincinnati Bengals
  • Miami Dolphins (from Philadelphia Eagles)
  • Detroit Lions
  • Carolina Panthers
  • Denver Broncos
  • Dallas Cowboys
  • New York Giants
  • Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami Dolphins via San Francisco 49ers)
  • Los Angeles Chargers
  • Minnesota Vikings
  • New England Patriots
  • Arizona Cardinals
  • Las Vegas Raiders
  • Miami Dolphins
  • Washington Football Team
  • Chicago Bears
  • Indianapolis Colts
  • Tennessee Titans
  • New York Jets (from Seattle Seahawks)
  • Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Jacksonville Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams)
  • Cleveland Browns
  • Baltimore Ravens
  • New Orleans Saints
  • Green Bay Packers
  • Buffalo Bills
  • Baltimore Ravens (from Kansas City Chiefs)
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Who will be picked first?

That’s the multi-million dollar question! Who will be the No.1 overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft?

Quarterbacks are the most valuable, most influential players in a team. They’re the guys who can turn losers into winners, nearly-men into champions, and they’re the guys who always tend to go first in the Draft as failing teams seek an instant injection of youthful quality.

Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence is seen by many as the best prospect in this year’s Draft. He is expected to be selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars by the vast majority of fans, pundits and everyone connected with the sport.

Expecting that pick to be made, BYU QB Zach Wilson should go to the New York Jets, while another trio of QBs – Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones – are all highly likely to be snapped up inside the top 10.

Away from quarterbacks, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, tight end Kyle Pitts and offensive lineman Penei Sewell are among the top contenders to be snapped up early.

Teams will have their targets in mind, with months of intensive scouting and research going into their plans, but that could all change should an unexpected pick be made or a blockbuster trade gazumps teams around them. And that’s what makes the NFL Draft such a special occasion to enjoy.


If you’re looking for something else to watch check out our TV Guide or visit our Sport hub for all the latest news.