Beginners Guide to… The Draft

This is a weekly feature where we will be taking you through the basics of different aspects of sport that you may not already know. The aim is to expand peoples knowledge so not only will other posts on here make more sense, but you can show off your new found knowledge to your friends. If you think we miss anything or have a topic you want us to cover Comment, Tweet or Email us and we will get to work on it.

This week, we will be covering the draft. Why not start things off the same way as most pro players across the pond start their careers? Now we have a lot to cover so strap yourselves in we are gonna get straight into it.

What exactly is the draft?

Good question, keep this up and everything will be clear. So the draft is how new young players get into the major sports leagues in North America. Hell, in hockey its how they get into the junior leagues as well, but we will cover that another time. Sadly as with most things the leagues don’t all see eye-to-eye on how it should be done, the NHL holds an Amateur Draft and the NBA, NFL, and MLB typically draft college players.

And when would that be?

They take place during the offseason of their respective league.

Okay, that makes sense. So who is eligible to be drafted?

You know how I said they all like to do things a little differently? Well bear with me this will take some explaining.

NFL – In theory, this is the easiest one. Anyone who graduated high school at least 3 years ago can declare themselves eligible.

NBA – For players from the USA, they have to be 19 in the calendar year of the draft to be eligible. 1 year of college, they can go pro.

MLB – There is a lot going on here. Must be a resident or educated in Canada, American or Puerto Rico. Must have never played for a Minor or Major League club before. Must have graduated high school and not attended college, or have been at college for 3 years or turned 21.

NHL – North American players who will be 18 or older before September 15th of the draft year but younger than 20.

Wait, you’re telling me that only North American kids get drafted? I guess they have built the wall.

Before you get on that soapbox, let me cut you off. No, they just have different rules for overseas players. Okay… well the NFL only drafts college kids, but there are a whole bunch of issues with the NFL that are a lot more pressing. In the NBA international players of any age can be drafted, to be an international player they have to be “Permanently reside outside the US for three years whilst playing basketball.” “Have never enrolled in a US college or university.” “Have never played for a US High school.” MLB teams can sign international players at any time, at any age as long as they have never attended a North American college. With the NHL, because they are an “Amateur Draft” they can also draft none North American players of any age, though they are less likely to spend a draft pick on someone in their mid-twenties.

I need to learn to hit or skate. I can still make it! Have players younger than that been drafted before? Is that how you say it, drafted?

Ahh, correct you’re learning. But yes, in the NBA especially there was a load of high school players drafted most notably Lebron James and Kobe Bryant. The players union weren’t happy about it and the rule changes were bought in during the 2005 season. In the NHL because of the way the age limit works, there are often players drafted who are 17 at the time of the draft.

How is it decided who goes first? Is there a vote? Some sort of Around the World Race?

Are you okay? No, there is no around the world race between franchises. Again, this differs between leagues but each method is based around keeping things fair.  The worst performing teams, in theory, should get access to the best young talent. In the NFL and MLB, the concept is very literal, the team with the worst regular season record gets pick number 1, the winners get the last pick and the order continues for the duration. The NBA and the NHL both use weighted lottery systems.

Weighted Lottery?

To put it in the simplest terms for you, all the teams go into a hat. The worst performing team has the highest chance of winning (14% NBA 18.5% NHL) and the best performing team has a 1% chance of winning. In the NBA they pull four teams out and those teams will have the first four picks in the NHL it’s three. Then the rest of the teams pick in order of performance.

Doesn’t that seem a bit complicated and possibly unfair?

Well, the leagues don’t think so; they bought the systems in to prevent teams from “tanking”. In effect, losing on purpose to get as higher pick in the draft as possible and stocking up on youth prospects. The lottery system means that there is no guarantee that you are getting the first pick even if you are a hot trash team.

So there is this big event and the players don’t even know who will have the first pick until the day?

Of course not! The lotteries tend to be done about two months before the draft. Though that in itself has produced moments. Look at Superstar Conor McDavid’s face when he found out he would be heading to the Edmonton Oilers.

Image result for connor mcdavid draft lottery

Image result for connor mcdavid draft lottery







Do you have to keep the pick you’re assigned?

No! Trades are a regular thing (we will cover them in more detail). But teams can stock up on picks and have multiple picks per round. Trade up if they want a higher pick, or trade down if they want to move on a pick that they have for a current player.

How do these teams know who to pick from the hundreds of players?

Again, a very good question. Blind Luck!! I’m kidding; well sort of it depends on who you ask. But each team employs scouts to watch all the top prospects play. There are also independent centralised scouts, not affiliated to any team, who release official player rankings but this isn’t gospel. Each league will have a combine, where the top prospects are put through their paces and go through various medical checks. The NHL hosts a series of prospect games, as does the NCAA (More on them in a later guide). They also give out trophies to the best performing players in each sport such as the prestigious Heisman Trophy given to the best college football player (again, stay tuned for more on that).

Okay… so these scouts put these reports together, has there been any times when a player was sent to go with the first pick and tumbled down?

Plenty! There are some pretty famous examples Laremy Tunsil was a star defensive prospect and on the day of the draft his social media was hacked and videos of him with a gas mask bong were posted, his tumbled down the draft board.

Has the top-rated ever player has turned out to the terrible?

Ahh the “bust”, this happens a lot more than you would think for various sporting and none sporting reasons. In the NFL over the last 15 years, we have Jamarcus Russell, Trent Richardson, Johnny Manziel, Charles Rogers, RG3, Vince Young just to name a few (Trust me there are plenty more). The NBA has had its fair share Anthony Bennett, Darko Milicic, DuJan Wagner. The NHL has Alexander Daigle, Patrick Stefan, and Pavel Brendl and the Yankees really did bring Brien Taylor to the league out of high school. (But yes, as it’s the Yankees we can totally laugh)

But the opposite must happen as well? Guys are picked up late and turn out to the stars.

Pavel Datsyuk, Deacon Jones, Jonny Unitas, Steve Largent, Tom Brady Manu Ginobili, Michael Redd, Daniel Alfredsson, Henrik Lundquist, Albert Pujols, Mike Piazza. What do they all have in common? They are all stars and they all went in late rounds in their drafts. Countless players who didn’t make it taken before them… so yes would be the answer.

Have there been any stars who weren’t drafted?

Well technically, Wayne Gretzky was never drafted. See he initially played in the WHA a league that merged with the NHL, they didn’t have a draft so was signed as 17 a year old. Then his Edmonton Oilers signed joined the NHL and he went onto to be one of, if not the greatest of all time. Martin St. Louis went undrafted and was a star for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Kurt Warner was an amazing quarterback who was undrafted, so did Antonio Gates and he will probably end up in the Hall of Fame, James Harrison won’t unless they open a wing for suspensions, but he went undrafted too. Jose Calderon and Wesley Matthews are the standouts from the NBA. The MLB there are many International Players who were never drafted but we won’t count those, as they weren’t eligible.

Do you have to sign for the team that drafts you?

You were doing so well. You went on a run of asking questions with answers that were the same for each league and you have gone and ruined it. So in the NFL no, they draft you and that’s where you play. The MLB, NHL, and NBA there is no rule saying that you have to sign, but there is also no rule saying that the teams have to sign you. But they have the rights to you and your contract for up to three years (5 in the MLB). Eric Lindros was picked up by the Quebec Nordiques in the 90’s refused to play and was traded to the Flyers.

What happens if you aren’t signed?

Well, you don’t have to report to the team. So you can do what you were doing before in effect. NBA and MLB prospects will tend to carry on at college and can ultimately re-enter the draft again if they remain unsigned. NHL players can carry on playing Junior hockey, play Pro hockey in Europe (See Oli Juolevi) or to go college themselves. If they don’t sign you up and the rights expire you become a free agent.

Let’s say you do sign? How much are you getting paid?

I’m glad we are back on track where all the answers are the same… NOT. So the NFL, where you’re drafted has an impact on the money that you make. A rookie contract is 4 years and each year as a base salary, so you can’t be paid less than that, for example, the first year is $480,000. The top pick in this year’s draft Baker Mayfield is looking at making over $32 million over the 4 years of his rookie deal including a signing fee of over $22 million. In the NFL the higher you go, the bigger the signing bonus. The NBA is similar the salary is on a sliding scale, the first pick will make more than the second etc. the contracts are for 2 years and the team has an option for a third and a fourth. 2017 first overall pick Markelle Fultz deal was for a total of $5.8 million dollars. Second round picks could, in theory, be paid anything within the cap rules but tend to make league minimum. NHL rookies sign Entry-level contracts that last for 3 years. They have to be two-way deals, which means they can be sent to minors and can make no more than $925,000 dollars a year. Obviously, once this has expired, they can sign a mega-deal.

Okay… so I think I get it now… drafts are how stars are found and bought into the league. The worst teams get the first pick to make them better. The higher you go the more money you make. That seems pretty simple.

Yeah, it is, I am glad that you’re getting the hang of it. Obviously, we could go a hell of a lot deeper but I think we have covered enough for now. If you have any further questions. Comment, Tweet or Email us and we will get to work on it right away. We will be back with another Beginners Guide next Wednesday.

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