The NFL draft is an annual event in which National Football League franchises take turns selecting amateur football players. Currently, the draft consists of seven rounds. Each team is assigned a selection in each round, with the teams with the worst record from the previous year being assigned the best picks in each round. This helps the league achieve a degree of parity.
The draft is the first chance each team gets at players who have been out of high school for at least three years. Players whose high school class did not graduate three or more years before are not eligible for the draft and hence they are not eligible to play in the NFL.
After the draft, any non-drafted rookies are allowed to sign a contract with any team in the league. These rookie free-agent usually do not get paid as well as drafted players, nearly all of them signing for the predetermined rookie minimum. The drafted players are paid salaries commensurate with the position in which they were drafted. High first-round picks get paid the most, and low round picks get paid the least. There is a de facto pay scale for drafted rookies.
The NFL allows each team to spend a limited amount of money from its salary cap to sign rookies (including undrafted players). Teams with higher picks get a higher rookie salary cap allocation. In most years, the salary cap increases from the year before, so most years there is more money allocated to teams for signing rookies. This form of salary control is legal because it has been negotiated into the NFL's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the players' union.
The first professional football draft was held in 1936. Originally, it was a low-key affair, for which teams prepared little. Over the years, scouting for the draft has grown to be a complicated pseudo-science, in which teams use workout data from prospects, interviews, game films, and projections of skills as players mature to decide which college players are the best in the country.
In the 1980s, cable sports channel ESPN began televising the draft, which led to an increase in its popularity. Now, "draftniks" like ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr. work year-round on studying and projecting where players will end up in the draft, and which teams will select them.