We're already a quarter of the way through the college football season, and the 2016 NFL Draft are slowly beginning to take form. With that in mind, it's time for my first top 50 player rankings for next year's draft.
As always, player rankings aren't necessarily a predictor of where a player will be drafted.
Instead of just tossing out a list of 50 players, this initial big board is broken up in five tiers. This preliminary top 50 will change dramatically over the next several months. Even with that in mind, though, it's hard to see the top two changing.
Tier 1: The immediate superstars
1. Joey Bosa, 6'6, 275 pounds, DE, Ohio State*
2. Robert Nkemdiche, 6'4, 296 pounds, DT, Ole Miss*
There is a clear divide between Bosa, Nkemdiche and the rest of the field. The two junior defensive linemen likely would have been top five picks this year had they been draft-eligible. Bosa has made his name as a relentless defensive end who can simply drive offensive tackles backward. Nkemdiche is a super-athlete for an interior defensive lineman. He gets through gaps with ease and closes as fast and violently as any defensive tackle in recent memory. These two may play different positions, but they'll be tied together throughout the draft process.
Tier 2: High-end sure things
3. Vernon Hargreaves, 5'11, 198 pounds, CB, Florida*
4. Laremy Tunsil, 6'5, 305 pounds, OT, Ole Miss*
5. Jared Goff, 6'4, 210 pounds, QB, California*
6. Su'a Cravens, 6'1, 225 pounds, S/LB, Southern California*
7. Ronnie Stanley, 6'5 1/2, 315 pounds, OT, Notre Dame
8. Jalen Ramsey, 6'1, 201 pounds, CB/S, Florida State
9. Jaylon Smith, 6'2 1/2, 235 pounds, OLB, Notre Dame*
10. Myles Jack, 6'1, 232 pounds, OLB, UCLA*
It's probably a little early to consider anybody a sure thing, but these eight players look like safe bets. The standout is Goff because he plays quarterback. He's been markedly better for Cal this season and has answered some of the questions about his arm strength. Tunsil is the big question mark because we haven't seen him yet, but of these players he has the best chance to getting into the first tier.
Cravens has an NFL future at either linebacker or safety. For teams in need of a player who can cover tight ends, Cravens is the blueprint. This may be a little high for Jack because he tore his ACL, but he has enough good tape at linebacker to warrant the spot. Hargreaves top this tier because he's such a pro-ready shutdown corner, and the best player at his position since Patrick Peterson in 2011.
Tier 3: Difference makers
11. Kendall Fuller, 6'0, 194 pounds, CB, Virginia Tech*
12. Laquon Treadwell, 6'2, 229 pounds, WR, Ole Miss*
13. A’Shawn Robinson, 6'4, 312 pounds, DT, Alabama*
14. Michael Thomas, 6'3, 210 pounds, WR, Ohio State*
15. Karl Joseph, 5'11, 197 pounds, S, West Virginia
16. Ezekiel Elliott, 6'0, 225 pounds, RB, Ohio State*
17. Jordan Jenkins, 6'3, 253 pounds, OLB, Georgia
18. Darron Lee, 6'2, 235 pounds, OLB, Ohio State*
19. DeForest Buckner, 6'7, 290 pounds, DE, Oregon
As far as cornerback prospects go, Fuller isn't that far behind Hargreaves. He's a smooth and fluid press coverage cornerback who has started since his freshman season at Virginia Tech. Treadwell has garnered comparisons to NFL wide receivers like Dez Bryant and a smaller Julio Jones. It's high praise for the physical junior wide out who excels at going up and getting the ball.
Treadwell is for now the draft's top wide receiver but Thomas is right behind him. Thomas was a little bit of a late bloomer for the Buckeyes but he's developed into a complete receiver with good size and enough speed. Thomas is one of three Ohio State players in this tier along with Lee and Elliott. Lee, a junior, is Ryan Shazier redux. He's a fast sideline-to-sideline player who can quickly diagnose the play. Elliott could rise if Ohio State starts feeding him the ball a little more.
Tier 4: Potential first-round players
20. Connor Cook, 6'4, 220 pounds, QB, Michigan State
21. Taylor Decker, 6'8, 315 pounds, OT, Ohio State
22. Andrew Billings, 6'2, 300 pounds, DT, Baylor*
23. Joshua Perry, 6'4, 254 pounds, OLB, Ohio State
24. Tyler Boyd, 6'2, 190 pounds, WR, Pittsburgh*
25. Shawn Oakman, 6'9, 280 pounds, DE, Baylor
26. Jack Conklin, 6'6, 317 pounds, OT, Michigan State*
27. Shilique Calhoun, 6'5, 250 pounds, DE, Michigan State
28. Adolphus Washington, 6'4, 290 pounds, DT, Ohio State
29. Rashard Higgins, 6'2, 188 pounds, WR, Colorado State*
30. Cody Kessler, 6'1, 210 pounds, QB, Southern California
31. Josh Doctson, 6’3, 195 pounds, WR, TCU
Here is where we find the two other quarterbacks in this top 50. Because of the position they play, Cook and Kessler stand a chance to get picked much higher than their ranking. Both quarterbacks are solid across the board, but don't strike you as true superstar franchise talents. Of these 12 players, Doctson might have the highest ceiling. He may not have optimal bulk, but he'll high-point the ball and work over the middle.
Michigan State dominates this tier with Cook, Calhoun and Conklin. Calhoun is a pro-ready end who fits perfectly on teams that run a lot of four-man fronts. He's not a star athlete for an overly physical player, but he routinely gets pressure and can stop the run. Conklin is a starting-caliber left tackle in the NFL.
Oakman, the massive defensive end from Baylor, was probably a little over-hyped coming into the season. While he's a good player who can dominate at times, he's far too inconsistent to earn a higher ranking at this point. Billings, his teammate, might be the strongest player in college football. He can easily move offensive linemen around and create havoc in the run game.
Tier 5: Possible risers
32. Carl Lawson, 6'2, 257 pounds, DE, Auburn**
33. Leonard Floyd, 6'4, 231 pounds, LB, Georgia
34. Kenny Clark, 6'3, 308 pounds, DT, UCLA*
35. Sheldon Rankins, 6'2, 303 pounds, DT, Louisville
36. Cameron Sutton, 6'1, 189 pounds, CB, Tennessee*
37. Jayron Kearse, 6’5, 220 pounds, S, Clemson*
38. Spencer Drango, 6'6, 310 pounds, OT, Baylor
39. O.J. Howard, 6’6, 252 pounds, TE, Alabama*
40. Chris Jones, 6'5, 308 pounds, DT, Mississippi State*
41. Sheldon Day, 6'2, 285 pounds, DT, Notre Dame
42. Reggie Ragland, 6’2, 252 pounds, MLB, Alabama
43. Jake Butt, 6'6, 248 pounds, TE, Michigan*
44. Kentrell Brothers, 6’1, 235 pounds, MLB, Missouri
45. Vadal Alexander, 6’6, 329 pounds, OT, LSU
46. Anthony Zettel, 6'4, 278 pounds, DT, Penn State
47. Derrick Henry, 6'3, 242 pounds, RB, Alabama*
48. Emmanuel Ogbah, 6'4, 275 pounds, DE, Oklahoma State*
49. Germain Ifedi, 6'5, 325 pounds, OT, Texas A&M
50. Evan Engram, 6'3, 227 pounds, TE, Ole Miss*
Some of the players in this final tier could rise into the first round of the draft. Kearse is perhaps the most interesting. Teams that want their own version of Kam Chancellor might peg Kearse for that role. He's not as physical as Chancellor (who is?), but there's enough coachable tools there for a team to reasonably push that role on him.
Two linebackers from this tier -- Brothers and Ragland -- may not get drafted in the first round, but they're dependable players who should contribute early in their careers. One player who could rise into the first round is Jones. A star as a freshman at Mississippi State, Jones' play was down a season ago but he's an incredibly athletic player for a defensive tackle.
This tier also features the only three tight ends listed. If Howard, Butt and Engram all decide to enter the draft, each should be taken in the first two rounds of the draft. Howard is a good all-around tight end, albeit an underused one. Butt has really come on as a good receiving tight end as a junior. Engram is a good Joker tight end candidate.
Next five up: Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor), Christian Hackenberg (QB, Penn State), Austin Johnson (DT, Penn State), Jeremy Cash (S, Duke), Jarran Reed (DE, Alabama)