I put out my first draft guide in 1979. This year will be No. 35. That first guide was a full six years before the first NFL scouting combine. Back then, there were no online prospect guides, no recruiting rankings to track talent down to the high school level, and the draft looked something like this. For me, evaluating prospects was all about getting as much tape as I could find (there was no ESPN GamePlan) and making hundreds and hundreds of phone calls (no cell phones, either!) to coaches, scouts, front-office folks that would listen and evaluators at every level. You couldn't watch a verified 40-yard time on live TV; instead, you had to triangulate and weed out truth from fiction. It wasn't easy.
Mel Kiper's all-time draft grades
But throughout all of this time, I've kept the same 10-point grading scale, so even as the athletes changed, we can compare today where players stood among their prospect peers over a generation. So, some parameters for what you see below:
1. The ranking is based on the final draft grade before the draft, and it goes back to 1979, my first draft guide. It's clear to me now I graded a little easier when I was younger. I didn't have the point of reference I do today.
2. The grades do not reflect NFL performance. (You'll see.) I printed these grades and simply went back through every book. I have to live with the busts.
3. There are some ties on grades, so I had to break those ties without a great deal of science. But again, I didn't break ties based on NFL production.
Here are my top 10 all-time wide receivers and tight ends based on draft grades.
1. Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech (No. 2 pick, 2007)
If he didn't pan out as an NFL player, it would be easy to point to Johnson's NFL combine numbers and say I got carried away. After all, here was a guy at 6-foot-5 and just under 240 pounds with huge hands and great short-area quickness who could still run the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds. But then you watch the tape and see Johnson double-teamed and still making plays at Georgia Tech. He was unstoppable and Tech knew it. The Jackets could hardly look elsewhere. Johnson caught 76 passes for 1,202 yards as a junior. The next closest receiver had 608 yards. Johnson's pro career continues in similar fashion. He's simply a brilliant talent.