The First NFL Draft

Bert Bell
Bert Bell

Jay Berwanger
Jay Berwanger

Joe Stydahar
Joe Stydahar

Bear Bryant
Bear Bryant

In 1935, Bert Bell, co-founder of the Philadelphia Eagles and future NFL commissioner (1946-1959), proposed a plan whereby the league teams would draft college prospects in reverse order of their finish. The club owners approved his idea and on February 8, 1936, held the first NFL draft at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia.

Here are the final standings from the 1935 NFL season, which determined the order of selection in the draft.

Eastern Division W L T Pct. Western Division W L T Pct.
New York Giants 9 3 0 .750 Detroit Lions 7 3 2 .700
Brooklyn Dodgers 5 6 1 .455 Green Bay Packers 8 4 0 .667
Pittsburgh Pirates 4 8 0 .333 Chicago Bears 6 4 2 .600
Boston Redskins 2 8 1 .200 Chicago Cardinals 6 4 2 .600
Philadelphia Eagles 2 9 0 .182          

Championship Game: Detroit 26, New York 7

The draft consisted of nine rounds. Here are the first round choices, in order of selection.

# Team Player Pos. College
1 Philadelphia Jay Berwanger B Chicago
2 Boston Riley Smith B Alabama
3 Pittsburgh Bill Shakespeare B Notre Dame
4 Brooklyn Dick Crayne B Iowa
5 Chicago Cardinals Jim Lawrence B TCU
6 Chicago Bears Joe Stydahar T West Virginia
7 Green Bay Russ Letlow G San Francisco
8 Detroit Sid Wagner G Michigan State
9 New York Art Lewis T Ohio

The first pick, Jay Berwanger, had just won the inaugural Heisman Trophy at the University of Chicago, then a member of the Big Ten. Berwanger never played a game of pro football because the Bears, who acquired his signing rights, wouldn't pay the $25,000 he demanded for two years.

The only first-rounder who later made the Pro Football Hall of Fame was Joe Stydahar. Other future Hall of Famers drafted that year were:

Other noteworthy choices:

  • Paul "Bear" Bryant (End, Alabama) by Brooklyn in round 4
  • Eddie Erdelatz (End, St. Mary's CA) by Cardinals in round 3 – Eddie later coached Navy (1950-1958)
  • Andy Pilney (Back, Notre Dame) by Detroit in round 3 – Andy coached Tulane (1954-1961)
  • Abe Mickal (Back, LSU) by Detroit in round 6