Five things to watch at the NFL's annual scouting combine, which starts later this week…
1. The quarterbacks, of course
As is the case most years, all eyes will be on this year's class of quarterbacks. This is, of course, especially applicable to the Browns, who hope to end what's been a long and elusive search for their franchise quarterback. With the first- and fourth-overall picks, new Browns GM John Dorsey and Cleveland are poised to address what has been years of instability at the position. This year's class (considered by some draft analysts as a particularly talented group) includes Wyoming's Josh Allen, USC's Sam Darnold, Louisville's Lamar Jackson, Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield and UCLA's Josh Rosen. Allen, Mayfield and Rosen have reportedly confirmed they will throw at the combine.
2. Speaking of Mayfield…
The combine should offer the Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner an opportunity to make something of a mea culpa. Mayfield, who is perhaps the most-polarizing player in the draft, was historically productive with the Sooners and has earned high marks for his accuracy, mobility, competitiveness and toughness. There's a reason he's been mentioned as a first-round and even top-10 pick. At the same time, teams will likely have questions regarding Mayfield's on-field outbursts and an arrest for public intoxication/disorderly conduct last spring. The combine, which teams use mostly to dissect prospects' character and medical history, should either, gives him the chance to alleviate or confirm those concerns going forward.
3. A consensus No.1 prospect?
For all intents and purposes, Myles Garrett was almost unanimously considered the best player in the 2017 draft, and his performance at the combine only reinforced that belief. This year, however, there are a handful of names who are poised to establish themselves as the guy, whether it's a quarterback, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, N.C. State edge rusher Bradley Chubb, Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick or Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson.
Barkley was a dynamic, devastating offensive weapon for the Nittany Lions who, according to NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah, could instantly transform an offense; Chubb amassed 25 sacks and 55 TFLs in three college seasons; Fitzpatrick is a do-it-all defensive back who was the heart and soul of Alabama's defense; Nelson, according to Jeremiah, is "the nastiest offensive line prospect I've ever evaluated."
The Browns, owners of the first- and fourth-overall picks, are positioned to land at least one of those players and the draft's top quarterback. While a free safety would fill pressing needs, Dorsey said Cleveland will use its picks on the best players available in an interview at the Senior Bowl last month.
4. Cornerback pack
The Browns finished second-to-last in interceptions last season and, generally speaking, struggled at cornerback despite a strong performance by veteran Jason McCourty in the first half of the season. Cleveland needs playmakers on the perimeter and will almost certainly address the position if it doesn't already do so in free agency. The combine should give us a better idea which corners separate themselves from the pack.
As things stand now, Ohio State and Northeast Ohio native Denzel Ward is largely considered the draft's best cornerback, recording 15 pass breakups and two interceptions in his first season as a full-time starter. Next in line is Josh Jackson, a former receiver at Iowa who led the nation last season with eight interceptions (including two pick-sixes) and 18 pass breakups. Also keep an eye on UFC's Mike Hughes, LSU's Donte Jackson, Louisville's Jaire Alexander, Auburn's Carlton Davis and Colorado's Isaiah Oliver.
5. If Joe Thomas retires…
Faced with the potential of losing a future Hall-of-Fame player, the Browns will need to entertain the prospect of taking a left tackle early in the draft. Thomas, the ultra-durable, 10-time Pro Bowler, said he's unsure if he'll return for his 12th season after suffering a season-ending triceps injury last October. Cleveland, regardless, would be inclined to keep tabs on eventual replacements at the position with Thomas, 33, entering the last year on his contract. Notable players at the position projected as top-round picks include Texas' Connor Williams, Oklahoma's Orlando Brown, Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey, Oregon's Tyrell Crosby, Pittsburgh's Brian O'Neill and Mississippi State's Martinas Rankin.