We know what you're thinking, and no, it's never too early for an NFL mock draft. With the 2015 draft finished, it's time to look ahead to next year's top prospects.
The final tally from last year's way-too-early mock: 14 of the 32 players named landed in Round 1 of this year's draft, another five heard their names called in Round 2 and three prospects returned to school (two of them finding their way into this mock again). The initial 2015 mock, published in May of 2014, did hit on the Jameis Winston-to-Tampa Bay and Marcus Mariota-to-Tennessee predictions, so I'll make sure to check the mail for my trophy.
A lot can change over the course of a year, as was the case for some of those predicted 2015 first-rounders who slid to later draft spots. Injuries took their toll (Ifo Ekpre-Olomu stands out there—he probably would have proven the Round 1 call true if not for a devastating December knee injury). Others, like UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, simply failed to show enough progress in their final college season.
Time will tell how the 32 players included below answer the bell this coming season. While this is presented in mock-draft form, the fits between player and team are loose, at best. Some team needs are still in flux for 2015, let alone '16, so there's little point in overanalyzing the rosters.
The draft order was derived from Bovada's 2016 Super Bowl odds (as of May 5, 2015), with a couple of minor adjustments made to place the correct number of AFC and NFC teams in the spots reserved for playoff qualifiers.
The first of many 2016 mocks to come:
The body that launched a million memes. The 6'9", 280-pound Oakman is a behemoth along the defensive line, and he might even be able to pack some more pounds onto that frame. Not surprisingly, he most often gets the best of college o-linemen by overpowering them. We saw this draft season, with Arik Armstead climbing into mid-Round 1, how enamored the NFL can be with physical specimens—no matter how raw they are. For Oakman, the concern is part technique and part consistency. If he figures out how to keep it in full gear throughout the 2015 season, he'll take over games on a regular basis and rocket to the top of draft boards.
Stanley did not make up his mind to stay in school until mid-January, and by that point some analysts had him ranked as the 2015 draft's potential top offensive tackle. There is inherent risk in delaying draft entry for a year (just ask Cedric Ogbuehi), but a second season starting at left tackle for the Irish could solidify Stanley's stock.
Had he been eligible for the 2015 draft and opted to enter it, Bosa likely would have been a top-five pick—perhaps even convincing Tennessee to pass on Marcus Mariota or Jacksonville on Dante Fowler. He's already that good. Get ready for the Bosa shoulder shrug to become the NFL's next great sack celebration.
The Buccaneers hit on a lot of needs this past weekend, but defensive end was not one of them. Enter Buckner, a 6'7", 290-pounder with the versatility to disrupt the backfield from multiple spots. He's actually a more complete talent at the moment than Armstead, his former teammate. Armstead may have a higher ceiling, but Buckner offers a higher floor.
One of two Ole Miss products in the top 10 here ... and both saw their 2014 seasons end with gruesome injuries. Tunsil suffered a fractured fibula and broken ankle, though he is expected to be back for the start of 2015. At 6'5" and 305 pounds, Tunsil already displays outstanding blocking ability on both run and pass plays.
The Hackenberg hype died down some last season, as he struggled to an eight-TD, 15-interception campaign. His offensive line did him no favors, but Hackenberg's decision-making was a mess. Expect him to get it back on track this season. The bandwagon will fill back up in a hurry if he does. At 6'4", with a strong arm and experience in a pro-style system, Hackenberg fits the classic NFL prototype at QB. Cleveland should know well before the '16 draft if it needs another franchise guy.
The brother of Chicago Bears CB Kyle Fuller, Kendall is "a little bigger, a little more physical" than the 2014 No. 14 pick, according to Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Foster also told The Roanoke Times that Fuller is "a lot like Brandon Flowers." Given how Flowers has played for them, the Chargers would take that.
Treadwell suffered about as bad an injury as you'll see last Nov. 1 vs. Auburn—he broke his leg and dislocated an ankle when a defender rolled over top of him. It's a waiting game for now to determine if Treadwell can recover all of his explosiveness once he's healthy. The player we saw before he was carted off was en route to superstardom. At a physical 6'2", 229 pounds, Treadwell looks the part of a No. 1 NFL receiver.
Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota may still have gone 1-2 in this year's draft even if Cook had declared, but there's little question the Michigan State product would have been QB3. How high he climbs in 2016 depends on if Cook can keep improving, especially in becoming more comfortable when things break down around him. As is, he's a 6'4" QB with a nice arm and the moxie to perform in crunch time.
Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio might want to carpool to the '16 draft—they'll each have several Round 1-caliber players. Decker (6'7", 315 pounds) was phenomenal for the national champs last season, playing left tackle after spending 2013 on the right side.
Shaq Thompson landed at pick No. 25 after a 2014 season in which he split time between linebacker and running back. Jack fills a similar role for the Bruins, only he has a chance to be even more effective as a three-down linebacker.
Will Higgins's numbers fall in 2015 because Garrett Grayson is no longer his quarterback? Or will the new Colorado State QB come close to matching Grayson because he has Higgins? Lean toward the latter. Higgins still needs to develop (he just wrapped his sophomore year), but he's thoroughly impressive.
Based on Nkemdiche's pedestrian stats from last season (35 tackles, four tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks), get ready to revisit the Jadeveon Clowney-esque discussion about looking beyond the box score. Nkemdiche (6'4", 280 pounds) commands so much attention that it's often his teammates cleaning up plays. He's big enough to play inside but quick enough to shift wider.
Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl wrote in December that Hargreaves "shares similar qualities to Darrelle Revis." So ... that's decent. Much like 2015 draft pick Ronald Darby (from rival Florida State), quarterbacks often avoided Hargreaves at all costs.
Quite frankly, if Ramsey builds off his 2014 performance, slotting him in at No. 15 will be too low. He has good size (6'1", 201 pounds), competes in track for the Seminoles—he had a 25-foot long jump last year—and, perhaps most importantly, he's excelled all over the field. Florida State has used him in slot coverage and even as a pass-rusher at times.
Sooner rather than later, the Lions have to start looking for help (and an eventual replacement) for Calvin Johnson. Could Williams be the guy in 2016? He's following a similar path to that of 2015 No. 7 pick Kevin White—Juco ball, two years of FBS play, Round 1 prospect. He thrived mainly in the slot last season (45 catches for 760 yards), but he has the build at 6'2", 224 pounds to kick back outside.
It'd be easy enough to rocket Jones to the top of the board considering how he played late last year. The Cleveland native has a huge arm and Ben Roethlisberger-esque size (6'5", 250 pounds) but with better wheels. The flip side is that he has all of three college starts under his belt. What we've seen so far has been incredible.
The 6'5", 326-pound Conklin flirted with the idea of entering the 2015 draft, following his redshirt sophomore season. Back in East Lansing for (at least) one more go, Conklin should be one of the country's top lineman. He could project at either left or right tackle as a pro.
The Bulldogs' defensive MVP last season, Floyd could be in line for a huge 2015. While a playing weight at 240 or 245 pounds would be preferable to Floyd's currently listed 231, Rex Ryan would like to get his hands on the talented pass-rusher either way.
Now that drafting running backs in the first round is back in style, Elliott could lead the charge if he bypasses his final season of college eligibility. Elliott ran for 1,878 yards and 18 touchdowns last season—696 yards and eight TDs coming during the Big Ten championship and Ohio State's two playoff wins.
Hey, why not? Cedric Ogbuehi made it three straight years with a Texas A&M offensive lineman being taken in Round 1. With Ogbuehi at left tackle, Ifedi played on the right last year. He could stay there in 2015, though he's in the mix to take over on the blindside.
Robinson (6'4", 320 pounds) helps set the table up front for the Crimson Tide. Among the reasons NFL teams will be all over him is that he is not relegated to a nose tackle-only role—Alabama uses him both inside and out. The Bengals should be ready to replace Domata Peko by next draft.
This is Mills's second straight year on the too-early mock. He also got the nod for 2015 (immediately after the 2014 draft) but the returns on his move from corner to safety were mixed. But players capable of handling both spots are all the rage right now, and the 6'1" Mills has the requisite experience.
The Cardinals will have to let go of Larry Fitzgerald eventually. Here, they nab the guy bumping Fitzgerald from several spots in Pittsburgh's record book. Boyd (6'2", 190 pounds) has natural instincts when the ball is in the air, adjusting and making catches in a way reminiscent of 2015 No. 14 pick DeVante Parker.
Tuerk will be a four-year starter by the time all is said and done. He earned a nod at left tackle in 2012, moved to guard in '13, then to center last season. It'll be up to his NFL team where he best fits at the next level, but having the option to play him anywhere along the line will be appealing.
Part two of a talented Georgia linebacking tandem, Jenkins stands about 20 pounds heavier than the aforementioned Leonard Floyd, which could play to his advantage. Reports emerged midway through last season that both Floyd and Jenkins considered entering the 2015 draft.
Turner already looks like an NFL guard, standing 6'4" and 325 pounds. His play has improved every season, too—sounds simple but not every draft prospect can maintain a steady climb. It will be Turner's athleticism from the interior that will lead his sales pitch.
Will the 2016 draft follow in '15's footsteps with multiple first-round RBs? Booker was on the fence regarding his draft status, before ultimately returning to Utah. Now in his second year out of the Juco ranks, he could be a Heisman candidate. A three-down back who is perfectly comfortable catching passes, Booker totaled 1,800 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
Another repeat member of our May mock, Calhoun headed into the 2014 season looking like a potential high first-rounder. His performance, at least early on, fell short of expectations. Calhoun turned it on over the second half of the year (and was better during the first half than his stats said), but he still has to become more effective on an every down basis.
Nine sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss last season for Nicolas, who is listed on Virginia Tech's website at 236 pounds. If he actually plays at or around that weight in 2015, the NFL buzz will follow. One of the obvious knocks on Nicolas's pro projections to this point has been that he plays too light—like Floyd, he has been closer to the 220 range.
Jackson (6'1", 185 pounds) sought out an opinion from the NFL draft advisory board this year, then stayed in Houston. He is a lock-down guy there, showing the footspeed to hang with any receiver he draws.
A left guard for the Tigers last season, Alexander will move over and start at right tackle in 2015. Per NOLA.com, he's dropped 30 pounds in anticipation of the transition, down to 320 from a hefty 350.