MOBILE, Alabama -- This year's Senior Bowl will be a little different for the Browns, but the importance hasn't diminished in the slightest.
If anything, it's grown, considering the depth of this year's rosters and the high-profile names at the most important position on the field.
One year after coaching the South team to a victory, the Browns will be back in a traditional spot at this year's Senior Bowl practices and games. It will be a week focused solely on scouting and meeting with a number of the draft's top prospects. It's one of the first landmark events leading up to the 2018 Draft and transitions nicely into next month's NFL Combine.
We've made some updates to the primer we provided at this time last year. No matter what way you look at it, this event matters significantly when it comes to the future of the Browns' roster.
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.
Talkin' about practice
The majority of NFL coaches, scouts and front office executives will be hunkered down at Mobile's Ladd-Peebles Stadium for the next three days. When the final practice of the week concludes Thursday afternoon, the vast majority of that group will be on its way to the airport. The practices really are the main event at the Senior Bowl, as teams are looking to see how the prospects look when they're surrounded by players with equal or better abilities, how they respond to NFL coaching and how they progress from Day 1 to Day 3. In recent years, a number of players have gone through the practices and then backed out of the game. NFL Network will have live coverage of these sessions throughout the week.
The top two prospects at this year's Senior Bowl both play quarterback and will both practice at the same time throughout the week. Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield and Wyoming's Josh Allen are members of the North team and will trade repetitions with two other signal-callers, Nebraska's Tanner Lee and Washington State's Luke Falk. They'll work closely with Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave as they hope to prove to the Browns and other NFL teams they're worth a first-round selection. Since 2010, four quarterbacks who played in the Senior Bowl have been selected in the first round: Tim Tebow (2010), Jake Locker (2011), EJ Manuel (2013) and Carson Wentz (2016). A number of others, including Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo, were Day 2 selections and went on to become starters.
Will the Browns use their first-round picks on players here?
The odds don't favor it. Dating back to 2005, just four Senior Bowl players have been selected in the top four of the NFL Draft: OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, DE Von Miller, OL Eric Fisher and Wentz. New Browns general manager John Dorsey made Fisher the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, his first as general manager of the Chiefs. Fisher is one of just a handful of players selected in the top 10 of the 2013 Draft to become a regular NFL starter. Cleveland has used a first-round selection on a Senior Bowl player five times since 2005, but none were picked in the top 10. Day 2 of the 2018 NFL Draft, when the Browns hold three second-round picks and the first selection of the third round, is where the odds favor a Senior Bowl player or two being picked. Cleveland came away with three Senior Bowl players in last year's draft: DL Larry Ogunjobi, K Zane Gonzalez and RB Matthew Dayes.
Who's the next Kareem Hunt?
That's impossible to say at this juncture, and the same can be said when the week concludes. Even Hunt, whom Dorsey selected in last year's third round, didn't leave Mobile as everyone's surest bet to succeed in the NFL. Many of this year's top running back prospects are underclassmen, but San Diego State's Rashaad Penny will look to elevate his name into the conversation with a strong week in Mobile. All he did was lead the nation in rushing last year with 2,248 yards over 13 games. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound spark plug was a late bloomer of sorts, as he shined as a return specialist during his first two seasons before blossoming into one of the nation's top running backs.
Where's the beef?
A few offensive line prospects here could be in the conversation for Cleveland when it makes its early Day 2 selections. Oregon's Tyrell Crosby has been projected as a late first-round selection in some mock drafts and has the ability to play both left and right tackle. UTEP's Will Hernandez is among this year's top guard prospects. On the other side of the ball, Stanford's Harrison Phillips could leave Mobile as one of the top five defensive tackle prospects in this year's draft. Alabama's Da'Shawn Hand was once the nation's top high school recruit and is one of the most intriguing athletes at the Senior Bowl.
Any small school superheroes?
It could mark the second time in three years a player from the Dakotas steals the show. Tight end Dallas Goedert of South Dakota State is considered to be one of the top prospects from the FCS and could be one of the best tight ends in this year's draft. The 6-foot-4, 260-pounder caught 164 passes for 3,404 yards and 18 touchdowns during his junior and senior seasons. No one is coming from a smaller school than CB Michael Joseph, who intercepted eight passes as a senior at Dubuque, a Division III school in Iowa.