It's never too early to look towards the next NFL Draft.
ESPN NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. did just that with a in-depth look at the top NFL draft prospects for 2016. Several Big 12 names, including TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, were on the list.
Yet there could be other Big 12 playmakers who could find themselves on the rise before the 2016 draft. In today's Take Two, Max Olson and Brandon Chatmon pick the biggest omission from the Big 12:
Max Olson: Oklahoma WR Sterling Shepard
The reason I think Shepard will rise up the draft ranks by the end of the year has everything to do with Lincoln Riley.
Take note of this: the go-to receiver in Riley's offense at East Carolina the past few years was Justin Hardy. In that scheme full of simple routes, the 5-foot-10 slot receiver ran wild. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Hardy was targeted a remarkable 173 times last season. More than Amari Cooper, more than Kevin White, more than Tyler Lockett. That's just insane usage.
The results: 121 catches, nearly 1,500 yards, 10 TDs, first downs on 70 percent of his grabs and the NCAA career receptions record. Thanks to that production, Hardy became a fourth-round draft pick.
And I think Shepard can be even better. Of course, he has to stay healthy. He needs his quarterback to stay healthy. He's also playing with a talented group of receivers who will get their fair share of targets. But their talent makes me think Oklahoma can execute its offensive transition with more first-year success than many pundits are expecting.
If Shepard stays on the field and comes anywhere close to replicating Hardy's production, we'll be talking about him as a draft gem by season's end.
Brandon Chatmon: Texas DT Hassan Ridgeway
Kiper Jr. has several top Big 12 players on his lists, yet there are some playmakers he seems to be missing. Shepard is definitely one, along with Baylor’s Corey Coleman, who immediately came to mind. But I have a feeling Texas' Ridgeway could end up being the best of the bunch and the most glaring omission from this list by the time the holiday season hits.
Thrust into a starting role after Tank Jackson's injury, Ridgeway was the perfect deputy to Malcom Brown. His 43 tackles, including 11 tackles for loss, and six sacks makes it seem like Ridgeway is more than ready to handle headline status with Brown NFL-bound.
Ridgeway has terrific size and is extremely disruptive -- he had at least one tackle for loss in eight of 13 games in 2014 -- so it would not be the least bit surprising if the junior defensive tackle joins Brown on Sundays in the future and debuts on Kiper Jr.'s big board at some point during the fall.