There are instant draft grades and there are real ones.
Instant grades come the day of the draft, when all anyone has is a player's college reputation and a team's needs.
Real grades start three years after the draft, when we have an idea how the draftees play.
Thus here is a look back at the 1998 draft, the last NFL Draft that can truly be graded. It's a redraft -- the order in which teams might pick players, now that they've seen the NFL performances.
In 1993, for example, the first pick in the draft was Drew Bledsoe by New England. It was the right pick at the time -- a franchise quarterback is always at a premium and Bledsoe's career, bumpy as it ended up, proved its worth. But if the Patriots had the ability to look into the future, they probably would have taken a skinny defensive end named Michael Strahan who went 40th overall to the Giants -- pass rushers, especially those who also can stop the run, are as valuable on draft day as quarterbacks.
The first player chosen in 1998 was Peyton Manning, who would still be the first pick. Easily.
After that, it changes radically.
Duds? The second pick, of course, was San Diego's Ryan Leaf. But Nos. 3 and 5 also bombed out -- Andre Wadsworth of Arizona and Curtis Enis of Chicago, respectively, both hurt by injury. It wasn't a deep draft -- even in the second round, there are names that are long gone or never stayed.
The Top 15
1. Peyton Manning, QB (Originally drafted: Colts, No. 1 overall): Four-time MVP. Because the Colts lost the Super Bowl and he threw a late interception, there are some doubts about his "legacy,'' one of today's "in'' words. Hogwash.
3. Hines Ward, WR (Steelers, No. 92 overall). Also played running back and quarterback at Georgia and wasn't considered fast enough to be a No. 1 WR. Maybe not, but he's been tougher than tough -- perhaps the best blocking receiver ever -- and his total numbers aren't bad: 895 catches for 10,947 yards. and 85 TDs on a running team. Oh yes, there's that MVP trophy from the 2006 Super Bowl.
4. Charles Woodson, CB (Raiders, No. 4 overall): A second player who falls right where he was taken. Unrecognized during eight seasons in Oakland, although he played well. But since joining the Packers in 2006, he has 28 interceptions, including nine in 2009, when he was chosen defensive player of the year.
5. Alan Faneca, G (Steelers, No. 26 overall): A six-time All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowler, he left the Steelers to sign with the Jets in 2008.
6. Matt Hasselbeck, QB (Packers, No. 187 overall): One of several quarterbacks blocked by Brett Favre with the Packers (see Mark Brunell and Kurt Warner). Hasselbeck was obtained by the Seahawks in 1999 when Mike Holmgren, who with Ron Wolf drafted him for the Packers, went to Seattle. He became a starter in 2001 and quarterbacked the team to the Super Bowl in 2005. Bothered by a bad back the last two seasons, he's still become the kind of QB who always goes high in a draft. Only Manning has been more successful from a draft in which Leaf, Charlie Batch, Jonathan Quinn and Brian Griese were taken ahead of Hasselbeck.
7. Matt Birk, C (Vikings, No. 173 overall): Nobody paid much attention when the Vikings took Birk out of Harvard -- centers rarely go high, especially from the Ivy League. Two All-Pro awards and six Pro Bowls later, he's one of the more decorated offensive linemen in the NFL, and a leader both in Minnesota and Baltimore after joining the Ravens last season.
8. Fred Taylor, RB (Jaguars, No. 9 overall): Unrecognized as a great back, perhaps because he played in a small market until joining New England last season. Got a reputation early as being injury prone after missing 23 games in his first four seasons, and he didn't make a Pro Bowl until 2007. Still, he passed John Riggins last season to move into 15th place on the career rushing list with 11,540 yards.
9. Olin Kreutz C, Chicago (Bears, No. 64 overall): A six-time Pro Bowler who has started 167 of 175 games he's played.
10. Tra Thomas, OT (Eagles, No. 11 overall): If this draft were real, he'd go ahead of Kreutz and Birk because he's a left tackle, not a center. Made three Pro Bowls early in his career but has had injury problems more recently. Signed with the Jaguars last year and started three games before being released in February.
11. Keith Brooking, LB (Falcons, No. 12 overall): A five-time Pro Bowler with the Falcons despite a long injury history, he had a resurgence with Dallas last season at age 34.
12. Samari Rolle, CB (Titans, No. 46 overall): The Titans were still the Tennessee Oilers when Rolle was drafted. He was the second-best cornerback, by far, in a draft in which Duane Starks, Terry Fair, and R.W. McQuarters were first-rounders. Has 31 interceptions in 12 seasons with the Titans and Ravens and made the Pro Bowl in 2000.
13. Flozell Adams, OT (Cowboys, No. 38 overall): Five-time Pro Bowler at left tackle, although offensive linemen tend to make it by heredity.
14. Greg Ellis, DE (Cowboys, No. 8 overall): A decent pass rusher -- 84 sacks in a dozen seasons, all with Dallas until last year, when he played for the Raiders.
15. Grant Wistrom, DE (Rams, No. 6 overall): Like Ellis, a good if unspectacular player who anchored one end of the defense on the dominant Rams teams from 1991-2003. Had 53 sacks in a solid if unspectacular career with the Rams and Seahawks that included three Super Bowl trips.
Special mention: Pat Tillman, S (Cardinals, No. 227 overall): An honorary pick. Emerging as a top safety when he left the Cardinals and joined the Army after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.
The Five Worst Picks
1. Ryan Leaf, QB (Chargers, No. 2 overall): Some teams thought he was better than Manning, and the Colts waited until late in the week before the draft to decide on their choice. Leaf completed 48.4 percent of his passes in 25 games over four seasons with the Chargers and Cowboys, and threw 14 touchdown passes to 36 interceptions. His surly behavior also alienated teammates, the media and everyone else who came into contact with him. One of the all-time busts.
2. Andre Wadsworth, DE (Cardinals, No. 3 overall): Considered by some scouts as the best prospect in the draft, he was done in by knee trouble. Had five sacks starting 15 games for the Cardinals as a rookie, but played in only 20 the next two seasons and was forced to retire. After 13 knee operations, he tried a comeback with the Jets in 2007 but didn't make it.
3. Curtis Enis, RB (Bears, No. 5 overall): Another player with knee problems, he averaged just 3.3 yards per carry over three seasons. His best year was 1999, when he started 12 games and rushed for 916 yards and a 3.2 average.
4. Robert Edwards, RB (Patriots, No. 18 overall): Might have made the top-15 list if not for a freak injury in a flag football game during the pre-Pro Bowl festivities in Hawaii -- that followed a rookie season in which he rushed for 1,115 yards, and he nearly lost his leg because of it. Made it back with Miami in 2002 and played 12 games, rushing for 107 yards in 12 carries and catching 18 passes. Rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2005 and 2006 for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.
5. John Avery, RB (Dolphins, No. 29 overall): A surprise pick taken because of his speed. Avery ended up rushing for just 524 yards in parts of three seasons with the Dolphins, Vikings and Broncos. Also played in the short-lived XFL, as well as the CFL.
Best Drafts by Team
Indianapolis: Nobody but Manning had much impact. But what an impact -- the Colts have had 10 wins or more in 10 of his 12 seasons, have made the playoffs in eight straight and 10 of 11, and have been to two Super Bowls, winning one.
Pittsburgh: Faneca, Ward, and CB Deshea Townsend (Round 4, No. 117 overall).
Minnesota: Moss and Birk plus a group of pretty good role players.
Jacksonville: Taylor, S Donovin Darius (1, 25) C John Wade, (5, 148) and WR Alvis Whitted (7, 192).
Dallas: Ellis, Adams, LB Darren Hambrick (5, 130), OT Oliver Ross (5, 138) and DB Izell Reese (6, 188)
St. Louis: Wistrom; DE Leonard Little (3, 65) and TE Roland Williams (4, 98)
Tennessee: WR Kevin Dyson (1,16), Rolle, DB Dainon Sidney (3, 77), DL Joe Salave'a (4, 107) and G Benji Olson (5, 139)
Arizona: DB Corey Chavous (2,33), OT Anthony Clement (2, 36), RB Michael Pittman (4,95) and Tillman.