Draft season gets kicked into high gear this week as the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine invades Indianapolis, Indiana.
326 of the top college prospects have been invited to take part in on the field drills, 15 minute interviews with any of the 32 NFL teams as well some medical testing.
The Cleveland Browns are one of the top teams to watch this draft season with six of the top 65 selections including the first overall pick for the second consecutive year.
The offensive linemen and running backs have arrived already and will be the first group to hit the field at Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday. Quarterbacks and wide receivers will hit the field on Saturday, defensive linemen and linebackers on Sunday and the defensive backs will finish the on field workouts on Monday.
Here are some of the positions I’ll be following closely during the week.
As it’s been every year since the franchise’s return in 1999, the main focus for the Browns this offseason is to find the franchise quarterback.
The Browns will get to sit down and talk to all the top prospects at that position. They’ve already got an early look at guys like Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield from the Senior Bowl last month but now will get a chance to see and hear from Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson.
Darnold is the top ranked quarterback by many draft pundits but there doesn’t seem to be a consensus Andrew Luck/Peyton Manning type guy so it’s up to the front office led by general manager John Dorsey to come to a consensus in the organization on who they find is worthy to be the quarterback to lead the Browns for the next decade.
There’s always a dark horse in the quarterback class of every draft and right now that guy seems to be Kyle Lauletta out of Richmond. Some are drawing the comparison to Jimmy Garoppolo when he came out of Eastern Illinois in 2014. He had a strong showing at the Senior Bowl and may find himself getting the call during Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) of the NFL Draft come late April.
2) Running Backs
Many are pegging Saquon Barkley as one of the Browns first round picks whether it’s the first or fourth overall pick.
There’s no doubt Barkley is an extremely talented football and could possibly be the best overall player in this draft class but I’m of the belief that the gap between him and the other running backs isn’t that far off.
I believe Derrius Guice, Ronald Jones, Kerryon Johnson, Sony Michel, Rashaad Penny and Nick Chubb could all be starting caliber running backs right from the start of their NFL careers and are players the Browns can get in Rounds 2 or 3 or even moving up into the late first round to draft one of these talented backs.
Some mid round guys that I’ll also be keeping an eye on include Royce Freeman, Josh Adams and Bo Scarbrough who the Browns could look at from the late third round to the fifth round.
3) Defensive Backs
There’s no doubt that the Browns secondary needs upgraded this offseason whether it’s in free agency or the draft.
The Browns can address that need with an elite defensive back in Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick with that fourth overall pick. Fitzpatrick could play outside corner, slot corner or even free safety and I think will be a huge upgrade to what’s currently there for the Browns at those respective positions.
If the Browns choose to draft someone else at four, there’s still talent at cornerback in the first several rounds.
Ohio State’s Denzel Ward will likely be gone by the time the Browns select at 33 or 35 barring some revealing off the field concerns or an injury as he’s projected to go in the top 15. Iowa’s Josh Jackson is currently projected in the mid first round but strong workouts could push him above Ward but could be someone the Browns package 33 and 35 to go get him.
Carlton Davis, Jaire Alexander, Tarvarus McFadden are all those lengthy corners at 6’1 which seems to be a trend in the NFL after the success Seattle has had with Richard Sherman. Kevin Toliver and Isaiah Oliver also fit that mold and all these guys will be potential options throughout the second round for Cleveland.
Free safety is also a position the team needs to address and if they find Fitzpatrick best at the cornerback position. Justin Reid out of Stanford and Marcus Allen out of Penn State are the two best pure free safety options which the Browns could look at them in the second or third round as well.
4) Offensive Tackle
While we wait for Joe Thomas’ decision on whether or not he’ll return for the 2018 season, they need to address the offensive tackle position in the draft to potentially find the heir apparent for the future Hall of Famer.
There’s three projected first round tackles in Texas’ Connor Williams, Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown Jr. and Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey, I don’t see the Browns taking one with a top 5 pick but if the front office loves one of those guys and sees the next Joe Thomas in a prospect, they shouldn’t be afraid to pull the trigger.
One guy I absolutely love as the draft process rolls along is Oregon’s Tyrell Crosby. Overshadowed by some of the flashy players the Ducks have produced over the years, Crosby has quietely been one of the best offensive tackles in the country.
He can play both left and right tackle and may even slide into guard for his NFL career. The Browns should absolutely consider him with one of their second round picks, he can start out at right tackle and push third year player Shon Coleman and then when Thomas retires, slide over to left tackle and be that guy the way Thomas has been since Cleveland drafted him back in 2007.