Why Doesn’t the NFL Have a Draft Lottery Like the NBA? (Overview)

Unlike the NBA, the NFL does not use a draft lottery system to determine the order of the top picks.

This has led many to wonder: Why doesn’t the NFL have a draft lottery?

If we were to sum up in one sentence why the NFL doesn’t have a draft lottery like the NBA:

The NFL doesn’t have a draft lottery like the NBA because one player doesn’t have as significant an impact on a team’s success in football as they do in basketball, reducing the incentive to tank for higher draft picks.

Below we look further into the reasons behind this decision and explore the differences between the NFL and NBA in terms of player impact and the concept of ‘tanking’.

The Concept of Tanking

Before diving into the specifics of the NFL, it’s essential to understand the concept of “tanking.”

Tanking refers to the deliberate attempt by teams to lose games in order to secure a higher draft pick.

The idea is that by finishing lower in the standings, a team can select a top college prospect who can potentially change the franchise’s fortunes.

The NBA’s Struggle with Tanking

The NBA has historically had issues with teams tanking towards the end of the season.

This is primarily because one elite player can significantly change the trajectory of an NBA team.

Players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Zion Williamson, and Victor Wembenyama are seen as generational talents who can instantly transform a franchise.

As a result, the incentive to lose games and secure a higher draft pick is tempting for teams that are out of playoff contention.

To combat this, the NBA introduced the draft lottery system, which gives all non-playoff teams a chance to secure the top pick, though teams with worse records have better odds.

The NFL’s Different Dynamic

In contrast to the NBA, the NFL does not have as significant an issue with tanking.

There are several reasons for this:

  1. Depth of Roster: An NFL team comprises 53 players, as opposed to the 15 in an NBA team. This means that one player, no matter how talented, cannot single-handedly turn around a team’s fortunes. Even a star quarterback needs a solid offensive line, skilled receivers, and a competent defense to win games.
  2. Injury Risks: The physical nature of football means that players, especially top draft picks, are at a higher risk of injury. This makes tanking a risky strategy, as there’s no guarantee that a top pick will have a long, successful career.
  3. Parity in the League: The NFL prides itself on the concept of “any given Sunday,” meaning that any team can win on any given game day. This parity is achieved through salary caps, revenue sharing, and other mechanisms that ensure competitive balance.

The Impact of One Player

While there have been instances of players like Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck (“Suck for Luck” as it was called in 2012) being viewed as franchise-changing quarterbacks, the reality is that their success also depended on the team around them.

In the NBA, a single player can dominate the game on both ends of the court.

In the NFL, a quarterback can’t defend, a wide receiver can’t block, and a defensive end can’t throw passes.

The interdependence of positions means that one elite player, even as quarterback-driven the NFL game is, cannot single-handedly lead a team to success.

Q&A – Why Doesn’t the NFL Have a Draft Lottery?

What is a draft lottery and which sports use it?

A draft lottery is a system used by some professional sports leagues to determine the order in which teams select new players from the amateur ranks.

The NBA (National Basketball Association) is one of the most notable leagues that uses a draft lottery system.

This system is designed to prevent teams from intentionally losing games (tanking) to secure a higher draft pick.

Why doesn’t the NFL use a draft lottery system?

The NFL (National Football League) doesn’t use a draft lottery system primarily because the league doesn’t face as significant an issue with tanking as the NBA does.

In football, one player doesn’t have as transformative an impact on a team’s success as they might in basketball.

Therefore, the incentive to tank for a higher draft pick isn’t as strong in the NFL.

How does one player have a bigger impact in the NBA compared to the NFL?

In the NBA, a single player, especially a superstar, can significantly influence the outcome of a game given that there are only five players from each team on the court at any given time.

In contrast, the NFL has 11 players on the field for each team at any given moment, making it harder for one player to dominate the game to the same extent.

How does the NFL determine its draft order?

The NFL determines its draft order based on the win-loss records of teams from the previous season.

The team with the worst record gets the first pick, and the team with the best record gets the last pick in the first round.

This system is designed to help balance the competitive landscape of the league.

Are there any discussions or proposals to introduce a draft lottery in the NFL?

While there have been occasional discussions and debates among fans and analysts about introducing a draft lottery in the NFL, there hasn’t been any serious momentum or official proposals from league executives or team owners to change the current system.

How does the NFL address concerns about tanking?

The NFL’s current draft system, based on win-loss records, inherently discourages tanking to some extent because one high draft pick doesn’t guarantee success in the league.

Additionally, the culture and nature of the sport, where every game is critical and injuries are prevalent, make it less likely for teams to intentionally underperform.

Has the draft lottery system been successful in preventing tanking in the NBA?

The draft lottery system in the NBA has been somewhat successful in discouraging blatant tanking, but debates continue about its overall effectiveness.

Some teams still strategize to improve their lottery odds, but the system does introduce an element of unpredictability to the draft order.

Are there other reasons the NFL might not adopt a draft lottery system?

Beyond the reduced impact of individual players in the NFL, other factors might discourage the adoption of a draft lottery.

These include the tradition and history of the current system, the potential complexities of implementing a new system, and the desire to maintain competitive balance in the league.


The NFL’s decision not to have a draft lottery stems from the nature of the sport itself.

The dynamics of football, from the depth of rosters to the interdependence of positions, means that tanking doesn’t offer as clear a path to success as it might in the NBA.

While the debate will continue about the merits of a draft lottery, the NFL’s current system reflects the unique characteristics of the sport and its emphasis on team over individual.

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