Photo Credit: profootballhof.com
Let's take a look back at the NFL draft through the decades:
Before the first NFL Draft in 1936, players were free to sign with any club creating an uneven playing field and the stronger teams became even stronger.
On May 19, 1935, the league owners adopted a plan for a college draft in which teams would choose players in inverse order of their finish the previous season. The first draft had nine rounds, but was increased to 10 in 1937. In 1939, the draft was expanded to 20 rounds and the procedure changed in 1938 and 1939 where only the five teams who finished the lowest in the previous season could draft in the second and fourth rounds.
- The NFL Draft was born in a Philadelphia hotel in 1936. The first player to be drafted was Jay Berwanger from the University of Chicago, but he decided not to play pro football at all. The Heisman Trophy winner had a brief stent as a sports writer and later became a manufacturer of plastic car parts.
- Coach Paul 'Bear' Bryant, was selected in the fourth round by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1936. He, too, never played pro ball.
- The Pittsburgh Pirates selected Byron 'Whizzer' White in the first round of the 1938 draft. He earned two rushing titles in his three year pro-career and he later became a United States Supreme Court Justice.
- With the seventh pick in 1938, the Green Bay Packers selected Cicil Isbell. In five seasons he lead the Pack to an NFL title, lead the league in passing twice, and threw a total of 61 touchdowns.
The procedure that began in 1938 allowing only the bottom five teams to select players in the second and fourth rounds continued until 1944. The previous year, the rules allowed the top five teams to draft alone in the final rounds giving each team 30 players. A bonus selection was developed in 1937 where one team was chosen by lottery to have the first pick of the draft and this continued through 1958.
In the second half of the 1940s, the NFL received competition from the rival American Football Conference as they held their first college draft. Secrecy became the new element of the draft as both leagues were fighting to sign top college talent.
- The Bears selected three players in the first round in 1941 -- Tom Harmon, Norm Standlee, and Don Scott -- none ever played for the team or the NFL.
- Pittsburgh selected future Hall of Famer 'Bullet' Bill Dudley as the first pick in 1942. The halfback later helped guide the Steelers to their first winning season.
- In 1947, the NFL made the first pick a bonus selection and through a lottery the defending champion Chicago Bears were awarded the pick. They chose Bob Fenimore and he played just one season in the NFL.
Throughout the 1950s the number of rounds remained at 30 and during the second half of the decade the NFL felt the squeeze of competition again as the Canadian Football League looked to gain popularity by drafting top college talent from the United States. The NFL held early drafts in 1956 through 1959 to try to combat this threat. The first four rounds of the draft were held in late November or early December and the remaining rounds were held in January.
- In 1951, the Cleveland Browns had a historic ninth round pick choosing Burl Toler. While Toler would never play a down in the pros, he went on to be the first African-American NFL official.
- In 1955, the Baltimore Colts selected Alan "The Horse" Ameche with the third pick and he would go on to score the overtime touchdown in the famous 1958 NFL Championship.
- The 1950s were the era of the nickname. Some of which included Choo-Choo, Tank, Curly, and The Lion.
The NFL and the AFL still continued to battle each other to gain the top college talent in each respective draft. To gain an edge, the NFL had a secret draft to beat the AFL in signing key players. More often than not, teams would hold players up in hotels until they were drafted, increasing the chance that the league would sign them. The two leagues would later merge after the 1966 season.
- In 1962, the Cleveland Browns used their seventh round pick on John Havlicek, an end from Ohio State. He wouldn't play in the pros, but he would earn hall of fame honors with the Boston Celtics.
- In 1965, the Chicago Bears used their back-to-back first round picks to draft two future hall of famers: linebacker Dick Butkus and halfback Gale Sayers.
- In 1962, Ernie Davis became the first African-American to be drafted in the first round by the Washington Redskins. Sadly, he died of Leukemia before he could showcase his talents in the NFL.
- The NFL and AFL became one league in 1970 and both leagues would hold a joint draft in 1967.
The NFL expanded, adding the Seattle Seahawks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976. In a drawing held before the Steelers-Colts playoff game in December of 1975, the Bucs were awarded the first overall pick in the upcoming draft. The following year, in 1977, the NFL would reduce the annual draft from 17 to 12 rounds.
- The Steelers drafted a pair of hall of famers in 1970 -- Terry Bradshaw and Mel Blount. Both would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989.
- In 1975, the Chicago Bears drafted Walter Payton.
- Joe Montana was the San Francisco 49er's third round pick, 82nd overall, in the 1979 draft.
- The Washington Redskins traded away every first round pick they had in the 1970's and the earliest the team made a selection in the draft during the decade was in the fourth round.
The United States Football League attempted to tap into the draft pool in the mid-80s. The highlight of the decade came in 1983 when a group of college quarterbacks dominated the first round.
- Through trades, the Chicago Bears ended up with 20 draft picks in 1989.
- An emphasis on scouting became more important as teams' value on franchises increased. Teams began to invest in top talent in order to gain success.
- The famed "Class of 83" consisted of six quarterbacks taken in the first round:
- John Elway- Colts
- Todd Blackledge - Chiefs
- Jim Kelly- Bills
- Tony Eason - Patriots
- Ken O'Brien - Jets
- Dan Marino - Dolphins
The Dallas Cowboys returned to dominance during the 1990s by building through the draft. They assembled a team that won three Super Bowls during the decade. The number of rounds in the draft decreased to eight in 1993 and a year later down to seven.
- The Baltimore Ravens' two first round picks in 1996 became the foundation for their Super Bowl team -- Jonathon Ogden and Ray Lewis.
- In 1997, Orlando Pace became the first offensive lineman taken first overall in the draft in 30 seasons.
- The Indianapolis Colts selected quarterback Peyton Manning first overall in the 1998 draft.
- Five quarterbacks were taken in the first round in 1999:
- Tim Couch
- Donovan McNabb
- Akili Smith
- Daunte Culpepper
- Cade McNown
- Four of the 10 first overall picks were quarterbacks in the 1990s.
- Six of the 10 Super Bowl MVPs were first round picks in the 1990s.
In back-to-back drafts, an NFL team made trades in order to select three players in the first round -- New York Jets in 2000 and St. Louis Rams in 2001.
- In 2001, Michael Vick became the first African-American to be chosen as the first overall pick in an NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons.
- Eli Manning was the first of four quarterbacks to go in the first round when he was picked first overall. The others included Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, and J.P. Losman.
- University of Michigan Tackle, Jack Long, was selected in the first round by the Miami Dolphins in 2008.
After a brutal 1-15 season, the St. Louis Rams selected Sam Bradford as the first overall pick in the 2010 draft. He was the first of four Oklahoma players to be drafted in the first round.
- The Detroit Lions held two first round picks in the 2010 NFL draft and choose Ndomukong Suh and Jahvid Best.
- In 2012, Andrew Luck became the fourth Standord QB to be selected first overall after being chosen by the Indianapolis Colts.
The 2013 NFL draft will begin on Thursday, April 25 at 8 p.m. ET. For more information visit the NFL's draft page.
To learn more history of the NFL Draft visit Pro Football Hall of Fame's site!