Early mock drafts have to be looked at as player rankings just as much as they need to be looked at as traditional matches of prospect and team. We don't know the exact draft order yet, so we predict how that will wind up as well.
The draft order below is in no way official. It reflects how I predict the order will turn out once the NFL season comes to a close.
With that established, let's jump into my first mock draft of the year.
1. Oakland Raiders: Leonard Williams, DL, USC
When a team has a single win in late November, there are obviously multiple directions it can go to improve itself. With Derek Carr in place and showing some signs, the Raiders don't need to call Marcus Mariota's name here. That doesn't mean the Raiders wouldn't listen to trade offers from teams who covet the Oregon Ducks star.
However, playing it straight, Oakland would do best to tab the USC Trojans beastly defensive lineman to shore up its defense.
Oakland might be inclined to listen to offers to add depth at other positions. What the team needs most is weapons and protection for Carr, but there aren't any receivers, running backs or offensive tackles worth taking No. 1.
Williams would, however, help a defense that ranks dead last in sacks. He has the look of a defensive tackle who can be equally effective against the pass and run.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
The Jags defense has 33 sacks in its first 11 games. While no one would call Jacksonville's defense stellar, there's a framework for success in place. Bolstering the secondary is certainly an option here. However, Jacksonville drafted Blake Bortles in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, and getting someone to protect him is the best move.
Ogbuehi will likely be the best offensive tackle in the draft, and he should be the Jags' pick.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Neither Mike Glennon nor Josh McCown is the answer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The team needs an offensive leader, and that should be a player at the quarterback position.
In addition to Mariota's athleticism and his throwing accuracy evidenced by his 68 percent completion rate, he's also an outstanding leader.
Oregon's offensive coordinator said this about Mariota, per Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com: "He's freakishly smart, especially when it comes to football. He sees things and processes things so quickly that he just doesn't make a ton of mistakes."
That's the type of presence Tampa Bay needs under center and as the face of its franchise.
4. New York Jets: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
More than anything, Geno Smith needs weapons. The Jets could elect to give up on their supposed quarterback of the future, but in any case, the team needs a weapon to stretch the field vertically. Cooper is far and away the best receiver prospect in the draft.
He would help whoever is paid to throw passes for the Jets.
5. Tennessee Titans: Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
Ever since Thompson arrived at Washington after producing as a standout safety in high school, you could tell he was a special defensive player.
He's grown into a strong, athletic and dynamic outside linebacker who could be an absolute force in any defensive scheme. The fact that he has been playing running back as well only makes him all the more intriguing as a prospect.
Thompson has over 500 yards of combined total offense through the team's first 12 games. That includes 174 yards on the ground against Colorado on Nov. 1. The kid is a beast and the Titans can't go wrong tabbing the best player available in this instance.
6. St. Louis Rams: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
Jake Long has a torn ACL, so adding depth at offensive tackle is a logical option for the Rams. Scherff isn't quite as nimble as Ogbuehi, but he's a nasty and potentially dominant presence on the edge. What team doesn't need that?
7. Atlanta Falcons: Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor
The Falcons have had one of the weakest pass rushes in the NFL over the last two-and-a-half seasons. Since the beginning of the 2012 season up to Week 12 in the 2014 campaign, Atlanta has recorded just 72 sacks.
That's the lowest total in the league over that time. Atlanta must address its pass rush, and Oakman has the type of upside in that category to make a difference.
If you're looking for a kid who is going to come out of nowhere as a fast riser, Oakman is your guy. At 6'9" and 280 pounds, he is a freakish athlete with amazing size.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
The Vikes' passing game could use a jolt of electricity, and that's exactly what White can provide. We don't know what his 40-time will look like at the NFL Combine, but I'd expect it to be impressive.
At 6'3", 210 pounds, he could be a major weapon for Teddy Bridgewater.
9. Washington: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
Washington can't continue to depend on the oft-injured Brian Orakpo. The team needs a dependable pass-rusher at outside linebacker, and Clemson's Beasley would fit the bill. He seems a little undersized at 6'3" and 235 pounds, but Beasley reminds some scouts of the Denver Broncos' Von Miller, per Chase Goodbread of NFL.com.
That's a good thing.
10. Chicago Bears: Landon Collins, S, Alabama
The Bears spent a lot of money on their defensive line during the offseason, but not much was invested into the secondary. Ryan Mundy is currently playing strong safety for the team, but Collins is an elite talent who could easily supplant him, or even put in work at free safety where the Bears need the most help.
11. Carolina Panthers: Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan
Without question, the Panthers need to get Cam Newton another option in the passing game. Greg Olsen is a stud at tight end and Kelvin Benjamin seems to be developing nicely on the outside. Adding one more dependable threat would give Newton what he needs to push his team to the next level.
Funchess has toiled for a bad Michigan Wolverines team this season, but at 6'5" and 230 pounds, he'd give the Panthers another huge target in the passing game to mimic the unit the Bears throw at teams.
12. Cleveland Browns: T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama
The last time the Browns took an Alabama running back in the first round it didn't work out. Trent Richardson has since been traded to the Indianapolis Colts and he's quickly approaching bust status.
Yeldon is far more gifted, though, and he isn't as one-dimensional as Richardson. If the Browns have the heart to look to Tuscaloosa one more time, they just might find their feature back they were looking for when they signed Ben Tate, who has since been released. He'd complement Isaiah Crowell nicely and has more upside than Terrance West.
13. Houston Texans: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
The Texans desperately need a quarterback of the future. While Jameis Winston makes sense here, he doesn't seem like a fit for Bill O'Brien's team.
The talented and much more mature Hundley is the logical choice. Hundley is an excellent athlete with a very good arm, who is smart and is a natural leader.
14. Cleveland Browns (via Buffalo): Bud Dupree, DE/OLB, Kentucky
With Jabaal Sheard possibly leaving via free agency, the Browns may have need for an edge-rusher. Dupree is an explosive athlete who can wreak havoc in opposing teams' backfields.
He may be a more natural fit at defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, but he's athletic enough to play 3-4 outside linebacker as well.
15. New York Giants: Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
Adding depth to the G-Men's defensive line is key. Gregory has star potential as a pass-rusher. New York is at its best when it has a steady flow of bodies on its defensive line. If you look back at the Super Bowl teams in the Tom Coughlin era, the D-line has always been a strength.
Gregory can be the newest cog in that machine.
16. Miami Dolphins: A.J. Cann, OG, South Carolina
This might sound like a stretch at No. 16, but quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Lamar Miller have proven they can produce when they get the protection and daylight to run. While Miami's offensive line has been better this season than it was in 2013 when Tannehill was sacked 58 times, it still isn't a strong suit of the team.
Cann is a big, nasty and physical interior blocker who can help establish the run and shut down pressure on Tannehill up the middle.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
There are definite character concerns with Peters. Repeated run-ins with the coaching staff at Washington led to his dismissal from the program, per ESPN.com. It seems likely Peters will enter the NFL draft, and per Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com (via CBSSports.com), Peters' talent level will likely keep him in the first round.
The Steelers' secondary has become slow and less than athletic by NFL standards. Adding a player like Peters—who is arguably the top cornerback prospect in the draft—would be a huge get.
Rob Rang of CBSSports.com said this about Peters:
Physicality and athleticism regularly stood out against top competition. Among his best attributes is recognition, as Peters plays the receiver very well, turning back toward the ball as the wideout does and frequently knocking the ball away or intercepting it. Peters' aggression is just as evident in his tackling. Whether it be against a receiver or coming up in run support, he is a physical hitter who looks to intimidate opponents.
If Pittsburgh wants its defense to be a strength again, then tabbing a corner like Peters is a step in that direction.
18. Kansas City Chiefs: Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford
Kansas City desperately needs another receiver who can take some of the pressure off Dwayne Bowe. Montgomery is an attractive target for the Chiefs because of his ability to make plays after the catch.
Quarterback Alex Smith doesn't air it out much, so he needs guys who can make opponents miss and pick up yards after the catch. Take a look at this highlight reel:
Montgomery moves with the fluidity and strength of a running back with the ball in his hands.
19. Baltimore Ravens: Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
The Ravens' running back situation is in obvious disarray. Abdullah is one of the most dynamic offensive performers in college football. He has topped 1,100 yards in each of the last three seasons and has a nose for the end zone.
He has been nursing a knee injury, per ESPN.com, but it hasn't kept him out of action. Long-term durability could be a concern for a back who has carried such a heavy load in college, but his talent level is undeniable.
He would make an immediate impact as a weapon for the Ravens.
20. Cincinnati Bengals: Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
With the freedom to draft the best player available, the Bengals can take potential pass-rushing specialist Shane Ray here. Defensive end is one of the deepest positions in the draft, and Ray is one of the best.
In just nine games, he set the single-season sacks record for Missouri with 12. While the Bengals have a good number of pass-rushers already, you can never have too many of this valuable commodity.
21. San Diego Chargers: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
As good as Philip Rivers has been this season, the Chargers haven't been able to establish much of a running game. The team ranked 30th in the NFL through its first nine weeks as it has dealt with injuries.
Gordon is the latest highly productive back to come from Wisconsin. The Maxwell Award finalist exploded for a short-lived FBS-record 408 yards against Nebraska before Oklahoma's Samaje Perine stole his crown. He's thrust himself into the thick of the Heisman Trophy race as well.
22. Detroit Lions: Dante Fowler Jr., DE, Florida
George Johnson is a nice complement to Ezekiel Ansah on the defensive line, but the Lions could potentially take a more dominant player in Fowler Jr. here.
The team could lose Ndamukong Suh from its interior line in free agency. It could bolster the edges by pairing Fowler Jr. with Ansah.
23. New Orleans Saints: Arik Armstead, DE/OLB, Oregon
Players like Armstead are what make the Saints' attacking 3-4 scheme effective. At 6'8", 290 pounds, there are physical similarities to the Green Bay Packers' Julius Peppers.
Armstead may not have as much pure athleticism as Peppers, but he does have significant upside.
Nagging injuries have limited him to just two sacks on the year thus far, but most know that Armstead's potential is exciting. It's a little bit of a gamble, but if it pays off, this could be a big boon for the Saints if they make this pick.
24. Philadelphia Eagles: Benardrick McKinney, ILB, Mississippi State
With DeMeco Ryans having just one year left on his contract, per Spotrac, and having been lost for the season with a torn Achilles, the Eagles must address their inside linebacker positions.
McKinney is the man who makes the Mississippi State Bulldogs' defense go.
He'd make for a solid replacement should Mychal Kendricks fail to get the job done. If Kendricks does play well, McKinney would still provide solid depth.
25. Indianapolis Colts: P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State
Williams is a stud who can cover and tackle. In last year's national championship game against the Auburn Tigers, Williams was all over the field making plays against both the run and pass.
He had seven tackles and an interception in that game. Greg Toler has had a solid year for the Colts, but he is a free agent after next season. Williams could step in as a nickelback in 2015 and potentially replace Toler after that.
26. Arizona Cardinals: Leonard Floyd, DE/OLB, Georgia
The team's 3-4 scheme needs an injection of explosiveness off the edge. Floyd is an excellent athlete who can provide the spark, as evidenced by his six sacks this season.
He could help Arizona establish a more consistent pass rush.
27. Dallas Cowboys: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Despite suffering a minor toe injury in Oregon's 51-27 win over the Utah Utes earlier this month, per Andrew Greif of The Oregonian, Ekpre-Olomu continues to be one of the best cover corners in the nation. Dallas needs to find a presence at cornerback that it can trust with the opposing team's top receiver. Morris Claiborne has not proven to be that guy. Ekpre-Olomu could be.
Had he come out last year, Ekpre-Olomu probably would have been a first-round selection. He didn't help his stock coming back, but he did give himself an opportunity to win a national championship in college.
If he lands with the Cowboys, he'll have a shot at winning big in Dallas.
28. San Francisco 49ers: Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State
Another Florida State Seminoles corner could go late in the first round here to the 49ers. At one point, the secondary was a strength of the Niners defense, but free agency and injuries have depleted it a bit.
Darby is perhaps a better cover guy than Williams but not as good of a tackler. Teams have stayed away from Darby this season. He would be a solid selection for San Francisco.
29. Green Bay Packers: Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
Shoring up the run defense has to be the top priority for the Green Bay Packers. The Packers have allowed a whopping 136.7 yards per game on the ground this season, 30th in the NFL. Goldman is a strong and highly regarded interior defensive lineman who could make a quick impact for Green Bay against the run.
30. New England Patriots: Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn
All Sammie Coates does is make big plays down the field. Even in defeat, Coates showed off his big-play potential against Texas A&M in the Auburn Tigers' Week 11 loss. A spectacular leaping catch almost paved the way for a comeback win.
The New England Patriots haven't had a guy like that since Randy Moss teamed with Tom Brady.
Even with a lack of weapons, the Pats continue to get by and have been hitting their stride in recent weeks. Coates could provide the Pats a much-needed deep threat that would make the team's offense even more potent than it already is.
31. Seattle Seahawks: Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
Getting to the quarterback wasn't much of an issue for the Seahawks last season, but in 2014 it has been a problem. Seattle has generated just 16 sacks through its first 11 games. That's the primary reason the team's defense hasn't been as fierce this year.
Calhoun is another of this draft's top defensive end prospects and might be exactly what the Seahawks need to become more explosive up front.
32. Denver Broncos: La'el Collins, OT/G, LSU
There are times when the Broncos need to play smashmouth football to take pressure off Peyton Manning and the passing game. Establishing the inside run is the best way to do that.
Collins' ability to play two positions on the line, and to provide a push between the tackles, makes him the best selection for the Broncos here.