MOBILE, Alabama -- The NFL world has converged on the Port City, and the Browns are at the center of it.
Scouts, front office executives and coaches from all 32 teams are here today to watch the first of three sets of practices between the North and South teams. The Browns, of course, have significantly more staff here than most because of their role in leading the South team.
The team arrived Sunday night and got to work Monday, meeting with their players in various meetings while also doing what every other team is doing -- interviewing and getting to know some of the top prospects in the draft for the first of what could be a handful of times before April's NFL Draft. They also received an impromptu visit from Jamie Collins Sr., who agreed Monday to a four-year contract extension.
It's a busy week, and there's plenty of opportunities for fans, near and far, to get to see the Browns staff in action. Here's everything you could possibly want to know about the week ahead.
When you can watch
The South team practices today at 2:15 p.m. and again Wednesday and Thursday at 4 p.m. The North, led by the Bears, practices at 4:30 p.m. today and again Wednesday and Thursday at 1:15 p.m. These sessions, arguably, are just as -- if not more -- important, than Saturday's game when it pertains to the evaluation of the 100 or so draft prospects. Expect the stands at Ladd-Peebles Stadium to be extra crowded today because of the proliferation of head coaches who typically attend the first couple of practices. NFL Network will have live coverage of the practices all week and will be the spot to watch Saturday's game (2:30 p.m.).
Why does this matter?
Think of it as both a first and last impression. It's a first impression in the sense that this week serves as the first opportunity for teams to interview players in a casual setting outside of their respective college program. What's learned here will be transferred into future meetings at the NFL Scouting Combine, Pro Days and the prospects' respective visits to team facilities. It's a last impression, too, because this is the final opportunity for teams to evaluate players in a real football setting. For prospects who may not clock the fastest 40 or post the best bench press numbers, this is a last chance of sorts to show a team why he's the kind of football player a team would want.
Is the No. 1 pick here?
Probably not. Dating back to 2005, only one No. 1 pick (OL Eric Fisher, 2013) has played in the Senior Bowl. The talent level, though, continues to trend upward. The No. 2 picks in the 2016 draft (QB Carson Wentz) and 2011 draft (LB Von Miller) were Senior Bowl players. So, too, were top 10 picks OL Lane Johnson, DE Ziggy Ansah, DT B.J. Raji and OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, to name a few. The No. 12 pick, which the Browns hold thanks to last year's pre-draft trade with the Eagles, has played in this game three times since 2011: Cleveland's own Danny Shelton (2015), DL Sheldon Rankins (2016) and QB Christian Ponder (2011). The middle rounds are where the meat of these players land. Last year's draft saw 87 Senior Bowl players selected and the number has gone as high as 94 (2013) in recent years.
About those quarterbacks …
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson's decision to not attend the Senior Bowl took some shine off this year's crop when it pertains to draft prospects. Of the six currently here, Pitt's Nathan Peterman and Cal's Davis Webb are the highest ranked, according to CBSSports.com, but both are considered likely Day 3 picks. Perception, though, is a funny thing, and recent history has shown a quarterback or two from this game can come out of nowhere to emerge as a viable NFL quarterback. Last year, it was Dak Prescott. A couple of years earlier, Jimmy Garoppolo went from a late addition to the game to a second-round pick. Hue Jackson and the Browns will be working with Webb, Tennessee's Joshua Dobbs and Tiffin's Antonio Pipkin.
So who are the top players then?
Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who will work with the Browns coaching staff, is considered by many to be the top-ranked player at this year's game. "It's going to be a lot of competition here," Howard said Monday. "You know there are some question marks. I want to come out and be a great blocker and run good routes. There's no better game to come to to do those things." Western Kentucky offensive lineman Forrest Lamp, who also will play for the Browns coaches on the South team, is pegged as a player likely to be drafted in the second half of the first round. Alabama LB Ryan Anderson, another South player, could be an early Day 2 pick, and so, too, could Indiana OL Dan Feeney, Troy OL Antonio Garcia and Iowa DB Desmond King.