First-round team fits for top seniors in 2016 NFL Draft


As we arrive at the midway point of the NFL season, it seems an appropriate time to play matchmaker between the top senior prospects for the 2016 NFL Draft and their potential suitors.

Fourteen seniors were picked in the first round of the 2015 draft, as underclassmen ruled the Thursday-night festivities. I expect a similar outcome in April, though I'm not projecting landing spots for any underclassmen at this time, as they have until Jan. 18 -- the deadline for underclassmen to apply for draft eligibility -- to make a decision.

Teams are listed in order of where they would pick if the season ended today.

I didn't make a match for every team, as seniors won't make up the entirety of the first round. If you don't see your favorite team here, don't worry -- we'll have three-plus months of mock drafts for you once January rolls around.

10. Houston Texans (3-5):*Connor Cook*, QB, Michigan State -- There's nothing particularly flashy about Cook's game, so maybe he isn't going to earn first-round grades. But I have a feeling at least a couple of teams will appreciate his toughness and leadership abilities enough to pick him in the middle of the first. And, hey -- he's run a pro-style offense quite effectively for what seems like 10 years in East Lansing. Pro scouts keep complaining they don't see that anymore.

13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4):*Sheldon Day*, DT, Notre Dame -- If the Buccaneers improve enough by the end of the year and Lovie Smith returns as head coach, he could pair Day with Gerald McCoy in order to shore up that coveted four-man rush. Smith has never been afraid of playing smaller tackles if they are stout and quick.

14. Washington Redskins (3-4):*Josh Doctson*, WR, TCU -- Let's assume that Kirk Cousins does enough to earn the starting quarterback job for another year, and the Redskins are a bit gun-shy about picking another passer in the first round. How about getting Cousins a legitimate deep threat that can take the top off of a defense? Given DeSean Jackson's inability to stay healthy this season, it wouldn't be surprising if Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan decided it was time to part ways with the mercurial receiver after the season.

15. Buffalo Bills (3-4):*Taylor Decker*, OT, Ohio State -- I'll make the assumption that the return of quarterback Tyrod Taylor from injury will get the Bills near the .500 mark for the season. If the Bills aren't in love with any first-round quarterback prospect available at that point in the round, they'll look to shore up the offensive line.

17. Seattle Seahawks (4-4):*Vadal Alexander*, OT/G, LSU -- I don't think anyone watching the Seahawks this year would doubt that upgrading the offensive line is foremost on the minds of the Seahawks' brass. If they had a mauler like Alexander at right tackle, perhaps they wouldn't have to keep tight end Jimmy Graham in to block quite as often.

18. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4):*William Jackson*, CB, Houston -- Jackson is this year's Kevin Johnson -- a player who finds his way into the first round with excellent all-around coverage skills and athleticism. The Steelers don't have much depth at the cornerback spot, so a rookie will need to prove he belongs right off the bat.

24. Atlanta Falcons (6-2):*Le'Raven Clark*, OT, Texas Tech -- Clark would be a perfect offensive line bookend at right tackle across from Jake Matthews. He brings toughness in the run game and solid pass-protection skills.

25. Indianapolis Colts (3-5):*Jonathan Bullard*, DE/DT, Florida -- Few teams in the league need more improvement up front than the Colts, even though rookie Henry Anderson is doing more than his part. Add Bullard to the mix, and it will be more difficult to push this team around.

26. New York Giants (4-4):*DeForest Buckner*, DE, Oregon -- Jason Pierre-Paul's future with the team is in question. Cullen Jenkins and Robert Ayers are all on the wrong side of 30 and potential free agents, so the Giants need to pump up the defensive line. Buckner can play outside or inside, depending on the situation.

27. Arizona Cardinals (6-2):*Shilique Calhoun*, DE, Michigan State -- Age is creeping up on Frostee Rucker and Cory Redding, so Calhoun seems a good foil across from Calais Campbell on the Cardinals' front line.

28. Green Bay Packers (6-1):*Sheldon Rankins*, DT, Louisville -- An active and strong force for the Cardinals, Rankins could help make up for the loss of Mike Daniels and/or B.J. Raji in free agency, if the team moves on from either.

29. Cincinnati Bengals (7-0):*Jeremy Cash*, SS, Duke -- Veteran safeties Reggie Nelson and George Iloka are due to become free agents this offseason. Cash provides toughness in the run game and the ability to make plays in the back half.

30. Carolina Panthers (7-0):*Spencer Drango*, OT, Baylor -- Some teams will envision Drango as a guard at the next level, but he's a tough player who should get a shot to play outside. The Panthers have a severe need at the offensive tackle spot.

31. Denver Broncos (7-0):*Nick Martin*, G/C, Notre Dame -- No matter who plays quarterback for the Broncos in 2016, it would help the offense to have a strong center to protect their signal-caller and also open holes in the run game. Martin can play multiple positions up front, just like his brother, Zack, who made an instant impact with the Cowboys as a first-round pick in 2014.

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter *@chad_reuter*.

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