(CNN)Over the past three years, the NFL Draft has attracted an average viewership of between six and eight million people throughout the three-day event.
Its popularity trumps that of any other major league sports draft in the United States, becoming a signature event for the NFL over the course of its 87-year history by offering fans a first glimpse at the league's future stars.
With all eyes on the teams and potential franchise-altering players on the line, it is useful for fans to understand how the draft works, how picks are awarded and the rules that govern everything from player eligibility to how long teams have to decide on their selections.
This year, the 2022 NFL Draft begins on April 28 and ends on April 30 and will be broadcast on the NFL Network, ABC, ESPN and ESPN Deportes. Here's what you need to know.
How does the draft work?
The draft is seven rounds, with each of the 32 NFL teams receiving an automatic pick in each round. The event spans three days, with the first round taking place on Thursday, the second and third rounds on Friday and the remaining fourth through seventh rounds on Saturday.
Each team is assigned a table at the designated venue -- this year at the home of the Las Vegas Raiders, Allegiant Stadium -- where team selection representatives sit.
The representatives stay in contact with executives making the final decisions back at team headquarters and communicate each selection to NFL staff before officially announcing them to the world.
Each team receives 10 minutes to decide their selection during the first round, seven minutes in the second round, five minutes in the third through sixth rounds, and four minutes in the seventh round.
Should time expire before a team has submitted its pick, the team is still allowed to make a selection; however, this would leave the door open for the next team(s) to make their pick ahead of them.
When it comes to selecting the best future NFL talents, you're going to want to be timely.
How is the draft order assigned?
Teams draft in the opposite order of the final standings of the previous season, with the regular season last-placed finisher drafting first, and the remaining non-playoff qualifiers taking picks 2-20 following the same order.
The teams that did make the playoffs are calculated both by how far into the postseason they advanced in addition to their regular season standings.
Those eliminated in the wild card round take picks 21-24, divisional round picks 25-28 and conference round 29-30. The wild card round loser with the worst regular season record drafts first among those teams, while the wild card loser with the best regular season record drafts last, and so on.
The loser of the Super Bowl receives the 31st pick, with the Super Bowl champion receiving the 32nd and final pick of each round.
In the case of a tie in regular season records, the teams involved will be compared based on the strength of their schedules. The team that played opponents with a collectively higher winning percentage will draft after the team whose opponents had a collectively lower winning percentage.
If teams also had identical strengths of schedule, then it moves into division and then conference records. If this still does not break the tie, or if the teams involved are from different conferences, there are seven additional tiebreakers: head-to-head, win-loss-tie percentage, strength of victories, points scored vs. points allowed, net points per game, total net touchdowns and finally a coin toss.
So each team gets seven total picks and drafts in reverse order of how they finished the previous season?
Not quite. In addition to the seven standard picks awarded to each team, the league also began awarding supplemental "compensatory free agent" picks under the 1993 Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Compensatory picks were created with the goal of evening the playing field for teams that experienced significant losses due to free agency.
According to the league, any "team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks," which are spread throughout the third through seventh rounds.
The way in which compensatory picks are bestowed on teams is decided based on a confidential formula concocted by the NFL Management Council, but several known variables are included, such as player salary, playing time and postseason accolades.
So if you lose a big name player like Tom Brady to free agency, you could be awarded additional picks in the next draft.
In the actual case of Brady, the New England Patriots were awarded the 96th and 140th overall picks in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The league can award up to 32 compensatory free agent picks but can award additional compensatory picks to teams who hire minority coaches or executives in positions that are equivalent to or higher than their previous positions.
In total, the NFL awarded 39 compensatory picks to 16 different teams for the 2022 Draft.
What about trades?
If picks are the meat of the draft, trades are the spice. Teams can agree to pick-for-player trades throughout the entire trade period all the way up until the trade deadline during the season.
So while teams start with seven picks -- plus any compensatory picks awarded by the league -- they can gain or lose picks depending on their trades.
The Kansas City Chiefs gained five draft picks, three in 2022 and two in 2023, when they traded six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins. This ties the Chiefs for the most picks heading into the 2022 Draft, along with the Jacksonville Jaguars, with 12 selections available to each.
Eight teams made trades to acquire multiple first round picks, including the Chiefs, while eight teams will go without a single first round pick.
Teams can trade for or with future draft picks up until the trade deadline, but they can also make trades during the draft itself.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been known in particular for his "pick hoarding" practices on draft day -- trading players or higher draft picks (pick-for-pick trades) to acquire as many total picks as possible.
"Pick hoarding" became a more viable option for teams back in 2011 under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which established a rookie salary cap in order to allow teams to test their athletes at an NFL level before handing out massive multi-million dollar contracts. This means that today, teams can rely on top young talent at bargain prices, giving draft picks even more value.