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The college football season has ended with Alabama's conquest of Clemson in the national title game, and seeing as the season is over for 24 of the NFL's 32 teams, it must be the early stages of draft season.
Much of the first-round order is set, with the remaining NFL playoffs left to determine the back end.
This year will see just 31 picks officially in the first round, as the league saw fit to strip the New England Patriots of their top pick as a result of the Deflategate scandal, which should make early mock drafts a wee bit simpler.
The Senior Bowl, free agency, NFL combine and pro days are all still on the docket before the draft commences on April 30, but it's never too early to start speculating. Here's a look at an early mock draft, followed by a rundown of four players who are all but assured to be the top players drafted from their respective position groups.
|1||Tennessee Titans||Laremy Tunsil||OT||Ole Miss|
|2||Cleveland Browns||Jared Goff||QB||California|
|3||San Diego Chargers||Joey Bosa||DE||Ohio State|
|4||Dallas Cowboys||DeForest Buckner||DE||Oregon|
|5||Jacksonville Jaguars||Mackensie Alexander||CB||Clemson|
|6||Baltimore Ravens||Ronnie Stanley||OT||Notre Dame|
|7||San Francisco 49ers||Paxton Lynch||QB||Memphis|
|8||Miami Dolphins||Vernon Hargreaves III||CB||Florida|
|9||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Jalen Ramsey||DB||Florida State|
|10||New York Giants||Myles Jack||LB||UCLA|
|11||Chicago Bears||Jaylon Smith||LB||Notre Dame|
|12||New Orleans Saints||Robert Nkemdiche||DT||Ole Miss|
|13||Philadelphia Eagles||Taylor Decker||OT||Ohio State|
|14||Oakland Raiders||Reggie Ragland||ILB||Alabama|
|15||St. Louis Rams||Laquon Treadwell||WR||Ole Miss|
|16||Detroit Lions||A'Shawn Robinson||DT||Alabama|
|17||Atlanta Falcons||Shaq Lawson||DE||Clemson|
|18||Indianapolis Colts||Ezekiel Elliott||RB||Ohio State|
|19||Buffalo Bills||Emmanuel Ogbah||DE||Oklahoma State|
|20||New York Jets||Leonard Floyd||OLB||Georgia|
|22||Houston Texans||Carson Wentz||QB||North Dakota State|
|23||Minnesota Vikings||Michael Thomas||WR||Ohio State|
|24||Cincinnati Bengals||Kenny Clark||DT||UCLA|
|25||Pittsburgh Steelers||Eli Apple||CB||Ohio State|
|26||Seattle Seahawks||Kendall Fuller||CB||Virginia Tech|
|27||Green Bay Packers||Jack Conklin||OT||Michigan State|
|28||Kansas City Chiefs||Darron Lee||OLB||Ohio State|
|29||Denver Broncos||Austin Johnson||DL||Penn State|
|30||Arizona Cardinals||Noah Spence||OLB/DE||Eastern Kentucky|
|31||Carolina Panthers||Corey Coleman||WR||Baylor|
Top Prospects at Key Positions
Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
Laremy Tunsil has featured at the very top of plenty of early mock drafts, and it's easy to see why. Tennessee already has a potential franchise QB in Marcus Mariota and pockets of talent on defense. Should the Titans keep the No. 1 pick, it makes sense for them to protect their big investment by drafting a big offensive tackle who knows how to work in the kind of uptempo, quick-pass attack that might benefit Mariota.
WalterFootball.com's Charlie Campbell detailed how Tunsil would fit in in Nashville:
The Titans have a good young left tackle in Taylor Lewan, but Tennessee's offensive line as a unit could be improved to protect Marcus Mariota. If the Titans took Tunsil, they could move Lewan to the right side and have the best young tackle tandem in the NFL to protect their franchise quarterback.
This season, Tunsil demonstrated his phenomenal quickness, athleticism and abilities to bend and mirror. He has a ton of natural talent to be a blind-side protector. Tunsil was dominant in 2014 and arguably the best left tackle in the nation. Not only does he shut down pass-rushers, he gets movement in the ground game.
Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley probably isn't too far behind Tunsil in talent—and so much can happen between now and the draft—but so far it's the Ole Miss man garnering all the top-overall-pick hype.
Prediction: No. 1 to Tennessee
Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
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In what is shaping up to be a loaded draft class from Ohio State, Joey Bosa stands out even among his talented teammates as an NFL prospect. At this early stage, it seems highly unlikely any team will consider a defensive end before Bosa.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, who has Bosa going at No. 2 to Cleveland, described what makes him such a special talent:
Bosa is more than just an in-state product. He’s arguably the best player in this draft class, and over the past two seasons he has shown the kind of production and potential to be worthy of a top-overall selection. He’s a mix of Chris Long and Greg Hardy, even if some people want to compare him to J.J. Watt, and has an expert understanding of using his strength, quickness and length to impact the game.
If you want an impact player in Year 1, then you want Bosa. He’ll produce sacks, quarterback hits and quarterback hurries, and he is stout in the run game. Plug him in as a left defensive end and let him make plays for the next decade.
According to CFBStats.com, the 21-year-old racked up 35 tackles (16 for a loss), five sacks, 14 QB hurries, one interception and four passes defensed in 2015. Bosa has everything you look for in a disruptive force at the next level.
Assuming Bosa makes it past Tennessee or Cleveland, San Diego might hesitate to shoehorn him into its 3-4 system. However, the Chargers are hard up for players with run-stopping ability, and key pass-rusher Melvin Ingram has a spotty injury record. The Bolts simply can't ignore Bosa, should he fall to the third pick.
Prediction: No. 3 to San Diego
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
Featuring good size, eye-popping athleticism and proven production, Laquon Treadwell looks like the early front-runner to be the first wide receiver off the bug board. According to CBS Sports, Treadwell is the only wide receiver with a pure first-round grade.
The Rebel star had 82 receptions for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015. He was the obvious focal point of a potent Ole Miss passing attack, and yet week after week he found a way to produce against typically resolute SEC defenses.
Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze said back in October that Treadwell was perhaps the finest receiver he's coached.
"Laquon is as good a receiver as any that I have coached. I was a receivers coach here, and I had Mike Wallace, Shay Hodge and Dexter McCluster. They were all great players," Freeze said, vvia NFL.com's Chase Goodbread. "Donte Moncrief was the best we had until that point. Laquon Treadwell is just as good as Moncrief, if not better."
Treadwell doesn't feature game-breaking speed at wide receiver, so a bad time in the 40-yard dash could kill his draft stock. With so many teams at the top clamoring for talent in the trenches and in the secondary, there's a decent chance that Treadwell will fall to St. Louis, who could use a more traditional wide receiver to pair with the minute, mercurial Tavon Austin.
Prediction: No. 15 to St. Louis
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
If a running back is going to go in the first round this year, it's hard to envision it being anyone else other than the Buckeyes' Ezekiel Elliott.
According to NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah, Charles Davis and Lance Zierlein, one anonymous AFC executive called Elliott a "no-risk, high-reward" prospect. It's easy to see why: Just look at the numbers he put up over the last two seasons.
|Ezekiel Elliott 2014-15 Stats|
Stats from beyond the box score are arguably even more impressive. Check out this tidbit from Pro Football Focus' Ryan Jenson: "Ezekiel Elliott was able to complete the perfect pass-blocking season as a running back. He didn’t allow a sack, hit or even a hurry on 103 pass-blocking snaps."
The Colts can certainly justify using their first-round pick on a running back. They ranked 29th in the league in rushing in 2015, and Frank Gore turns 33 in May. Andrew Luck will have enough pressure as it is in 2016 as he looks to return to form after a discouraging, injury-riddled campaign. Asking him to work wonders with an anemic rushing attack would be cruel.
Elliott could fix all that.
Prediction: No. 18 to Indianapolis
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