How many rounds are in the NFL Draft? A brief history

NFL Draft
NFL Draft / Chris Trotman/GettyImages

In less than one week's time, the LA Rams will be stepping up to the podium of another NFL Draft. This is a special draft for the team. Not only is this the first time since 2016 that the team holds a pick in Round 1, but this team holds 11 draft picks in the 2024 NFL Draft. But that fact opened up a realm of questions:

  • Which NFL team used the most number of picks since adopting the 7-round format?
  • When did the NFL adopt a draft format?
  • When did the NFL establish seven rounds in the draft?

So let's hit a pause button on mock drafts and speculation for one moment for this article, and pivot to the history of the NFL Draft. How have the Rams handled the draft in the past? How did the NFL Draft become the event that it is today? The evolution of many NFL present-day institutions

Early history of the NFL Draft

The NFL Draft began in 1936 and developed out of the need to ensure that the ability to attract rookie prospects was level-loaded for all NFL teams. But the NFL was not for everyone. The NFL was new, and only 24 of the 81 players chosen in the first draft went on to play in the NFL. Most opted for more secure and stable professions, many of which paid better.

The first significant improvement to the draft process was the introduction of scouting. In 1963, the Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions, and Pittsburgh Steelers formed the LESTO scouting agency. The Chicago Bears joined in 1964, renaming the group BLESTO. That same year, the National Football Scouting (NFS) was formed by the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers and St. Louis Cardinals.

In 1965, the Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers and a new expansion team, the New Orleans Saints created a third scouting group that would become Quadra Scouting

The introduction of scouting to the draft process allowed teams to make informed decisions based on valid common information, and customized rosters based on team needs and preferences.

The evolution of how many rounds in the NFL Draft

There have been many changes to the draft over the decades. One area that has been tinkered with frequently has been the number of rounds allotted to NFL teams to make their selections. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the first draft that occured in 1936 had nine rounds. The following year, the number was increased to 10 in 1937. In 1939, the number of prospects increased exponentially, and the draft expanded to 20 rounds. In the 1940s, the number of rounds in the NFL Draft increased to 32 rounds.

However the draft began to shrink as the NFL began to increase the number of football teams. Finally, after two competing football leagues: The AFL and NFL merged into the modern-day NFL, the draft reduced the number of rounds from 17 to 12 in 1977.

So, when did the NFL draft finally become seven rounds? The answer is 1994 -- after the NFL first tried out eight rounds in 1993. The NFL has maintained seven rounds in the NFL Draft ever since. Why seven? The NFL has perfected the marketing of the event, which became a 3-day televised event in 2010. The format televises Round 1 on Thursday of draft week, Rounds 2 and 3 on Friday of draft week, and Rounds 4-7 on Saturday of draft week.

Rookie prospects who do not hear their names called out during the NFL Draft process can sign with any team they desire at the conclusion of the NFL Draft.

Here comes the Combine and Mel Kiper

In 1980, the NFL televised the NFL Draft. Despite his reluctance, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle agreed that it could be broadcast on a new all-sports cable network, ESPN, in 1980. While the draft proved to be a bigger and better draw for ESPN, the real draft fever did not hit until ESPN Draft analyst Mel Kiper hit the scene.

Mel Kiper was a NFL draftnik who hit the scene with meticulously detailed NFL Draft publications in advance of each draft. He is credited with creating 'mock draft' simulations, a ready-made tool used by NFL executives and casual fans now. But his haymaker was his live draft broadcasts that began on ESPN in 1984.

For the first time, NFL teams and personnel executives were held accountable in a live televised format, and the ensuing drama that occurred as a result was the stuff that television producers loved. Kiper's East Coast antagonizing second-guessing nature on television broadcasts was both entertaining and riveting. More importantly, NFL fans began to see and appreciate the amount of work required to pull off a successful draft.

The modern era of the LA Rams and the NFL Draft

Since the LA Rams hired Head Coach Sean McVay to joing General Manager Les Snead, the Rams have taken a novel approach to the NFL Draft and their annual allotment of draft picks. The team has fueled its success through a willingness to exchange draft picks for future NFL players for game-changing veterans who can compete today.

It was that willingness that allowed the team to add All-Pro DB Jalen Ramsey, and All-Pro OLB Von Miller. But in the 2022 NFL season, the team was unable to pry either RB Christian McCaffrey nor OLB Brian Burns from the Carolina Panthers. That forced the team to regroup and develop a new winning strategy.

In the 2023 NFL Draft, the LA Rams did not hold a single pick in Round 1. And yet, a recent article from The Athletic that revisited the 2023 NFL Draft shows that the LA Rams emerged with three Round 1 players, and there could be an argument to include IOL Steve Avila in the Round 1 group as well:

Ultimately, it's not where or when a player is selected in the NFL Draft, or even if that player is selected in the draft. What matters most is how effective that player is in the NFL, and how well they upgrade the team's overall roster.

The LA Rams are unique in that this team leverages any and all assets at their disposal in the offseason in an attempt to optimize the next season. Right now, the team has been both active and aggressive in the NFL Free Agency market. All that remains now is to round out the roster by selecting 11 new rookies to join the team. Then, signing undrafted collegiate free agents who can compete for a roster spot and playing time.

It's all part of the annual NFL Draft, and the 2024 NFL Draft is now less than one week a