It’s Too Early for a 2026 NFL Mock Draft, But Here Are Some Players Who Could Be Picked in Pittsburgh

We won't do a way-too-early 2026 NFL Mock Draft, but we can give you some of the early names to keep an eye on, led by Nico Iamaleava.

Way-too-early 2026 NFL Mock Drafts are becoming increasingly in demand now that it is confirmed the 2026 NFL Draft will take place in Pittsburgh. We won’t do a full mock here, but we can point you in the right direction to some of the transcendent talents who might represent the 2026 class.

Which College Football Players Could Be Picked in the 2026 NFL Draft?

At this point, early 2025 NFL Mock Drafts are precarious endeavors — but they are doable. 2026 NFL Mock Drafts — on the other hand — are much harder to swing.

There’s a great deal of care that must be exercised when using prospects’ names in mock drafts, and right now, it’s unfair to most to set expectations for the 2026 cycle. That said, we can look ahead at some of the names that might be represented.

You’ll note that Arch Manning — Texas’ heir to Quinn Ewers and one of the most publicized recruits over the past decade — is not on this list. He hasn’t played enough to warrant placement, but he undoubtedly has the talent and legacy footprint to eventually rise.

Nico Iamaleava, QB, Tennessee

Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Caleb Williams, and Drake Maye were all top-flight recruits coming out of high school. So too was Nico Iamaleava, who’s slated to start at quarterback for Tennessee in 2024. Recruit billing isn’t an exact indicator for first-round QBs, but Iamaleava could be special.

At 6’6″, 210 pounds, Iamaleava is a unicorn athlete with mind-bending quickness and movement freedom, which he combines with a loose, elastic arm. And in limited action in 2023, he showed off impressive playmaking chops and passing mechanics.

Jayden Maiava, QB, USC

As a redshirt freshman in 2023, Jayden Maiava threw for 3,085 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions leading the UNLV offense. He helped bring the Rebels to the Mountain West title game and was a driving force in manifesting the team’s best season since 2000.

Maiava leveraged his play into a transfer opportunity at USC, where he’s now battling Miller Moss for the starting job. Maiava is a big-bodied passer who can generate laser-like velocity with effortless ease, and he’s flashed the ability to carve up defenses over the middle.

Byrum Brown, QB, South Florida

Byrum Brown is eligible for the 2025 NFL Draft, but he could ultimately be a 2026 prospect. Still just 19 years old, Brown is coming off a 2023 campaign at South Florida in which he passed for 3,292 yards, 26 TDs, and 11 INTs, while also running for 809 yards and 11 scores.

At around 6’3″, 209 pounds, Brown’s talent pops on film. He’s an explosive, energetic athlete for his size, with a crisp and compact release. Mechanically, there are still ways for him to improve, but he has the raw talent and prototypical ability to fuel an early-round ascent.

Zachariah Branch, WR, USC

Dynamic athleticism is always in heavy demand in the NFL, and Zachariah Branch — a 2023 five-star commit for the USC Trojans — has it more than most. He logged three total touchdowns on offense in 2023 and established himself as an asset in the return phase.

At 5’10”, 175 pounds, Branch is a human joystick with physics-defying explosiveness and agility, and his skill set lends him all-encompassing versatility. In the modern NFL — and particularly with the new return rules — Branch could be extremely coveted in 2026.

Kevin Concepcion, WR, NC State

NC State’s passing attack wasn’t anything to write home about in 2023, and true freshman wideout Kevin Concepcion still managed to rack up 71 catches for 839 yards and 10 touchdowns. At 5’11”, 187 pounds, Concepcion boasts an exciting three-level threat framework.

For such a young player, Concepcion is already an energized and advanced manipulator as a route runner, with the tempo skills to freeze defenders and capitalize. Beyond that, he’s an explosive RAC threat, a tough middle-of-field catcher, and a dependable chain-mover.

Francis Mauigoa, OT, Miami (FL)

Another consensus five-star recruit coming out of high school, Francis Mauigoa made his presence felt early and often for the Miami Hurricanes in his first season. He was an All-ACC honorable mention performer in 2023, as well as a Freshman All-American.

At around 6’6″, 315 pounds, Mauigoa has a reputation as a truly special athlete, with instant explosiveness and frightening range as a space blocker. He’s already composed for a pass protector at his age and is a grueling finisher at the second level with his tenacity.

Rueben Bain Jr., EDGE, Miami (FL)

If you watch the tape back from Miami’s defense in 2023, you’ll see a 6’3″, 275-pound behemoth named Rueben Bain Jr. rushing off the edge. It’s a shocking revelation that Bain was a true freshman in 2023 — and after logging 7.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss, he’s only trending up.

At the moment, Bain’s primary mode of disruption is through power — but he also flashes exciting hip flexibility and bend capacity for his size. Already, the former four-star recruit looks like a future first-round prospect.

Suntarine Perkins, LB, Ole Miss

A five-star recruit, Suntarine Perkins made a strong final impression in high school, amassing 337 rushing yards, four TDs, four two-point conversions, and an interception in the 2023 Mississippi state title game. Then he carried that over with a strong true freshman campaign at Ole Miss.

Perkins — who’s listed at 6’3″, 205 pounds — will have to bulk up a bit before he reaches the NFL. But with his hyperactive quickness and closing speed, he has the athletic tools to be an invaluable chess piece at the professional level, especially as modern offenses evolve.

Caleb Downs, S, Ohio State

There are times when prospects make our jobs as evaluators easy from the moment they first step on the football field in college. Caleb Downs is such a case. A consensus five-star recruit in 2023, he emerged with 107 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, two interceptions, and four pass breakups as a true freshman.

KEEP READING: Top 100 Prospects to Watch in 2025 NFL Draft

After his breakout 2023 campaign, Downs transferred to Ohio State in the wake of Nick Saban’s retirement. Now, the 6’0″, 205-pound defensive back figures to be a Big Ten standout with his all-encompassing two-phase ability. It’s easy to bank on his Round 1 potential for 2026.

Dillon Thieneman, S, Purdue

Some players use the college football stage to prove themselves as special, irrespective of their recruitment billing. Dillon Thieneman was that player in 2023, racking up six interceptions and over 100 total tackles as just a three-star true freshman at Purdue.

At 6’0″, 205 pounds, Thieneman is already one of the best safeties in the nation, and he’d potentially be an early-round prospect if he were eligible in 2025. He can play single-high, tackle in support, blitz, and generate turnovers at an extremely high clip.

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