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 and 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 cellphones, either!) to coaches, scouts and front-office folks who would listen and to evaluators at every level. You couldn't watch a verified 40-yard dash 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 all 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 linebackers based on draft grades.
1. Hugh Green, Pittsburgh (No. 7 pick, 1981)
I had Green listed at just 220 pounds, but he was incredibly quick. For some perspective on his size, Green played defensive end for Pitt, and finished his college career with 53 sacks. He wasn't just a defensive phenomenon, either -- everyone knew who Green was. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting to George Rogers, and did so as a miniature defensive end. This is a guy who would simply throw himself at bigger offensive players, and I was always impressed with his durability, given his playing style. (Ricky Jackson was another great player on that Pitt team.) Green was a linebacker in the NFL, went to two Pro Bowls and survived 11 NFL seasons. Not bad for a guy who was smaller than many of the QBs he chased.