A Beginner’s Guide to the 2021 NFL Draft


Wikimedia Commons

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) is widely projected to be the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The NFL Draft has historically been one of the most popular events on the calendar for football fans. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

After the 2020 National Football League (NFL) season concluded on Sunday, Feb. 7, following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Super Bowl victory, the professional football world turned their attention to the upcoming NFL Draft, which is set to get under way on Thursday, April 29. For months, NFL scouts have pored over film of many league-hopefuls waiting to hear their names called by commissioner Roger Goodell on the stage in Cleveland, Ohio, and fans and analysts alike have mock-drafted to try and get a grasp on what will happen on Thursday night. The draft has been a spectacle and one of the biggest revenue generators for the NFL on a yearly basis, with many football fans tuning in to find who their teams will pick, in hopes that they will become the next crop of stars to lead their squads. For those that aren’t in tune with the draft as much as football fans may be, here’s a beginner’s guide to help familiarize you with the process.

What is the NFL Draft?

The NFL Draft is an event where all 32 NFL teams recruit, or draft, amateur or collegiate players to their rosters. Every team is given a position in the draft order that is in reverse order based on their record the previous year; for example, the team with the worst record gets the first overall pick, the team with the second-worst record gets the second pick, and so on, all the way to the Super Bowl champion picking last. If two teams finish with the same record, tiebreakers are implemented to determine the order of those teams, mainly strength of schedule.

A team has two options on what to do with their pick – draft a player or trade up or down the order, acquiring or sending a combination of picks and/or players to get what they desire. The draft consists of seven rounds, with the first three rounds typically drawing prime-time coverage on national television. The first round will be held on Thursday, April 29, and the next two rounds will be on Friday, April 30. The last four rounds of the draft will take place on Saturday, May 1. 

Typically, the vast majority of those that get drafted are college football players that are three years out of high school, but there are some athletes from overseas or from Canadian universities that can be drafted as well.

Who are the main players I should keep an eye on?

Recently, the draft has taken a turn for favoring quarterbacks to be picked early, as they are widely considered the most important position on a football team. This year, that sentiment has been widely echoed, as there are five main quarterbacks that are certain locks to be picked on Thursday night. Undoubtedly, the crown jewel of this year’s draft class is Clemson signal-caller Trevor Lawrence, a prospect who has been hyped up since his senior year of high school and has been called the best prospect in nine years. Aside from Lawrence, there is another quartet of quarterbacks set to be taken early – BYU’s Zach Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, and Alabama’s Mac Jones.

Outside of quarterbacks, there are plenty of offensive weapons that are projected to get taken early as well, including Florida tight end Kyle Pitts and LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. On the offensive line, the two main prospects to look out for are Oregon’s Penei Sewell and Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater.

However, despite all of the offensive firepower available early there are still some quality defensive players available in the first round, such as linebackers Micah Parsons from Penn State and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah from Notre Dame, as well as cornerbacks Patrick Surtain II from Alabama and South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn.

Why is the NFL Draft so popular?

For something as boring as watching teams select players, the draft has plenty of positive qualities that make it a popular occasion. One of the main reasons why the draft is so beloved among fans is that the football world gets to see the future stars of the league enter right in front of us. Being able to see these players finally have a goal of their fulfilled is something that is great to watch. In addition, the league does a great job of promoting the draft, building up excitement amongst all football fans, and football being immensely popular is a boost in itself. Seeing players enter the league that hail from universities that college football fans have tracked for years is a heartwarming sight, too.

However, arguably the most important factor into the draft being so fun to watch is the massive amounts of uncertainty surrounding (mostly) every pick. Scouting players in other leagues can be pretty straightforward, but uncovering hidden gems in later rounds and trying to figure out who could potentially fizzle out in the league is extremely hard to do, even for the best of scouts. Combine this with the prospect of general managers potentially picking players that most don’t think will go in a certain range of picks, and it creates a sense of anticipation that lingers throughout the draft.

Finally, draft night is the last major football-related occasion for football fans until training camp in the late summer. So, with this being the last period of football activity for months, football fans are eager to savor every moment, beginning with the first pick on Thursday night, where the Jacksonville Jaguars will be on the clock.