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 running backs based on draft grades.
1. Eric Dickerson, Southern Methodist (No. 2 pick, 1983)
Tall and powerful, Dickerson had an upright running style that made him look like a sprinter at the 60-yard mark -- right up until the split second before contact, when he'd drop his shoulder and use his 220-pound frame to wipe out a linebacker or safety in his path. A superb athlete with great vision, he was a dominant NFL runner until the mileage became too much. Who knows if that 2,105-yard season in 1984 will be challenged again soon.