NFL Draft eligibility explained

2021 NFL Draft
Qualifying for the NFL Draft is a realisation of lifelong ambition. Photo from Mile High Report.

On draft night, over 200 players are selected by different teams to add to their roster. While we are presented with their names and highlights on the screen, many of us wonder how the NFL Draft eligibility really works behind the scenes.

NFL Draft eligibility explained

The NFL Draft is teeming with college players who are waiting to get their names called. The question is: How do these players get qualified in the draft? There are thousands of aspiring football players, but not everyone is qualified on draft night.

In this article, we’ll explain the NFL Draft eligibility rules of players.

How do you qualify for the NFL Draft?

In order to qualify for the NFL Draft, a player must be out of high school for at least three years and must have finished their college eligibility before the start of the next football season.

There are instances that a player finishes their degree before the end of their college eligibility. If that’s the case, then they should seek approval from the NFL’s Player Personnel Staff to enter the draft early. Underclassmen only have until seven days after the NCAA National Championship Game to do so.

Once a player becomes draft-eligible then the Player Personnel Staff will notify teams, scouts, agents, and schools regarding a player’s status. They also work with the said parties regarding player workouts.

Can anyone enter the NFL Draft?

Not anyone can enter the NFL Draft but the requirement is quite simple. A player must only be out of high school for at least three years and finish their college eligibility to become draft-eligible. This is the only requirement to enter the NFL draft.

There’s no minimum age required to become draft-eligible also. This is why some of the youngest NFL players are only 19 or 20 years old when they got drafted in the league.


Amobi Okoye, the youngest college player to get drafted in the NFL, started college at just 15 years old. He was on pace to finish his college eligibility in just four years which he did so. At 19 years old, he was the youngest senior in the NCAA.

How hard is it to make the NFL?

It’s actually hard to make it to the NFL. While they are thousands of football players across the world, only 200 or more get selected on draft night. Another hundred are signed by NFL teams.

Only 1.6% of college football players get drafted in the NFL. Out of those drafted players, there is just a handful who actually play on the field.

Those who don’t get to play or aren’t named on the active roster are assigned to the practice squad instead. Being a practice player has its perks as well. The practice squad salary is around $8,400 each week. However, their contracts are not guaranteed—making their salary insecure.

Can players return to college if undrafted?

Yes, players can return to college to finish their degrees if they went undrafted. However, they cannot play football if they declared for the draft. Once declared, a player is considered “Pro” already and is no longer eligible to play in college.

Undrafted players are either signed by NFL teams to their practice squad or signed by other pro football leagues.

Going undrafted isn’t the end of their NFL journey, though. It may take longer but the doors aren’t closed. Some of the best undrafted NFL players play in other pro leagues in the US or overseas before getting their shot in the league. There are a plethora of all-time greats who weren’t picked on draft night but became stars on their time.

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About Jeremy Mallari 128 Articles
Jeremy lives and breathes basketball. He's an avid NBA fan for almost a decade now.

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