It's the best time of the year for those who can't get enough of evaluating the NFL's next generation. As we hit the road for Indianapolis, here are four storylines to watch at this week's NFL Scouting Combine.
1. Separation session
This draft is unusually deep on the defensive front. Defensive tackles and ends litter the top prospects lists of nearly every analyst covering the draft, and as we watch the evolution of the football athlete before our eyes (think: tight ends), we're seeing more versatility up front than ever.
Need an example? Take Houston defensive lineman Ed Oliver. We use defensive lineman here because Oliver is listed as a defensive tackle and played primarily in the A gap in college, but possesses the potential to do much more. NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah said as much when asked about Oliver on Monday:
"I think he'll benefit kind of from a move to that three-technique full-time, park him in there and let him go," Jeremiah said. "Some people, some teams believe they could put him outside and stand him up and see kind of could this be a Melvin Ingram type player for the Chargers on the edge. He's got some versatility to more around there."
This type of talk will become common in Indianapolis this week. This combine should also help decide which of these prospects will find themselves at the top of the board, and which will have to wait a little longer to hear their name called.
It doesn't stop at defensive line, though. Tight end is a position group that is about as deep as it'll ever be in a draft class, with multiple prospects slated for first-round selections. Irv Smith Jr., whose father played for the Browns in his final NFL season in 1999, is one of those prospects. Iowa produced two top-25 prospects who also happen to be tight ends in T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant. Hockenson is the model of modern versatility at the position, serving as a crushing blocker and a dependable option as a pass-catcher.
Which of these three will go first? And which defensive lineman will ascend to the throne once occupied by Myles Garrett in 2017? Could any of them unseat Ohio State's Nick Bosa? Find out this weekend.
2. All eyes on Kyler
For the first time in what seems like ages, the Browns don't have to focus on the quarterback position in the early rounds of the NFL draft. That doesn't mean that the rest of the league won't be paying attention to this cycle's newest hot topic: Kyler Murray.
The two-sport star at Oklahoma committed to football earlier this month via a Twitter post, passing up his chance to play professional baseball as a member of the Oakland Athletics, who drafted him ninth overall in the 2018 MLB Draft. He's small in stature, hovering around 5-foot-10, but is the fastest quarterback to take a college field in the last decade. His Heisman Trophy backs up that claim.
Murray's passing abilities seem to stack up, too, but the pressure will rise when all eyes land on him in Indianapolis. His height and weight will be a much-awaited measurement, as will his 40-yard dash time. His passing drills will fall somewhere behind those.
And again, the Browns don't have to worry about Murray's performance. They already have Murray's former Oklahoma teammate, Baker Mayfield, set as their franchise quarterback. But Murray's workout -- and how it compares to that of Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins -- will be a key story in this combine.
3. The right time for the right pick
The Browns have had excellent timing with this whole draft thing in the last 12 months. They took their franchise quarterback at No. 1 overall last year, found a lockdown corner in Denzel Ward at No. 4, landed an incredibly promising running back in Nick Chubb early in the second round, selected a fifth-round linebacker, Genard Avery, who played well as a rookie and acquired a No. 1 receiver in Jarvis Landry via offseason trade. This draft isn't strong in most of those positions. Where it is strong, however, is where the Browns could use an addition: defensive line.
It is also deep at offensive tackle, where the Browns made a move Monday to keep Greg Robinson with an extension, but are still in the market for a talent for the future. Jeremiah addressed this possibility, as well as the chance to make a good pick on the defensive front, when asked about what he thought the Browns would do at No. 17.
"In terms of what could be there or what they could do, you can look at it defensively and look at some of the numbers and look at some of the holes and say, OK, they've got to go on the defensive side of the ball," Jeremiah said. "But man, if -- to me if (Washington State tackle Andre) Dillard is there, who I think is the premier pass protecting left tackle, that would be hard to pass up at that point in time.
"So that would be one I would definitely have an eye on. And the big kid from Florida (Jawaan Taylor), too, is very, very talented, who could make some sense, although you probably feel a little bit more comfortable with him on the right side there. That will be a big decision for them to make, do they go where they have some holes on that defensive side, or do they go ahead and look at that tackle."
4. Campbell's moment
The go-to event at the combine, the 40-yard dash, should include its annual crop of burners. One is a local product, Ohio State receiver Parris Campbell, who grew up in Akron and graduated from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. He's a favorite in the area, was a state champion in both the 400-meter and 800-meter relay, and flashed his speed on a national stage as a Buckeye.
"The guy I'm anxious to see more than anybody else, you just go to the wide receiver position, (Terry) McLaurin is fun to watch, but Parris Campbell, to me, A) what's he going to run? Because I've heard nothing but [how] explosive he is, and you can see it when you watch the tape," Jeremiah said. "But [he] doesn't run a variety of routes and his hands are a little bit inconsistent, so I want to see him catch the ball. That's one thing I'll be looking for from him. But man, he's going to put on a show once he gets on the 40 line."
Campbell's receiver drills will be, perhaps, even more important, as Jeremiah mentioned, because he struggled with drops in his first two seasons of significant playing time before improving during his senior year. He, McLaurin, UMass wideout Andy Isabella (a graduate of Mayfield High School) and Malone product Ashton Dulin will be among the local wideouts to watch at the combine. And of course, there's everyone's favorite athlete and projected first-round pick, D.K. Metcalf. There's always a place for the next stud receiver in the hearts of Browns fans.