NFL Draft Tiebreakers
by Trevor Whenham - 02/20/2008
The NFL Draft is more important than ever to teams trying to build a winner, and to the fans of those teams that hope for a brighter future. As such, the order in which teams pick is incredibly important, too. The last two picks in every round are reserved for the teams that play in the Super Bowl - the winner picks last, and the loser picks second to last. Other than that, NFL Draft rules state that the draft order is determined by the records of the team, regardless of whether they made the playoffs or not. The team with the worst record picks first, and the team with the best regular season record that didn't win the Super Bowl picks 30th.
That's simple, but it never works out as smoothly as it should. With 30 teams playing 16 games each, it is inevitable that several teams will end up with the same record. That means that there has to be a method to break the ties. At first glance, the NFL Draft tiebreakers seem complicated, but they really aren't. Here is how they break down:
1. If two teams have the same record but one made the playoffs while the other one did not, then the team that did not make the playoffs picks first.
2. If two teams with the same record both make the playoffs, then the team that is eliminated from the playoffs first gets to pick first. If they both get eliminated in the same round, the teams go on to the next tiebreaker.
3. The next tiebreaker is strength of schedule. This is determined by calculating the combined record of the 16 opponents of each team. The records of divisional opponents are counted twice because they are each played twice. The combined number of wins and losses for each team adds up to 256. The team whose opponents combined for the fewest wins has the weaker strength of schedule and gets to pick first. That's because the team that gets the same record against weaker opponents is the weaker team.
4. It is quite possible that there will still be a tie after looking at strength of schedule. This is especially common with teams in the same division because their opponents can mostly be the same. If this is a situation, the next way to break the tie is to look at the division and conference standings. If one of the teams ranks lower than the other in those standings because of the tiebreakers they use then they will pick first in the draft.
5. Occasionally, a tie will still exist after all those possibilities have been exhausted. In that case there is a coin toss at the NFL Combine, and the winning team picks first.