This is the 13th in a 20-part series examining some possibilities for the Browns in the 2013 NFL Draft, including extensive looks at the most likely prospects for the No. 6 overall selection, potential targets later in the draft, trade-down scenarios, what the other teams in the AFC North might do and the top players coming out of Ohio State and the Mid-American Conference.
Each morning will bring a new, daily posting leading up the NFL Scouting Combine on Feb 20.
Today we look at the top storylines heading into the NFL Scouting Combine and then the draft.
1. Where do the quarterbacks end up? -- As always, the quarterbacks will drive the conversation. Two years ago, the likes of Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker all made it into the top-12 picks despite lower grades than many players drafted after them. And the successes of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson this past season will surely fuel that fire even more.
Heading into the 2012 season, USC's Matt Barkley was thought to be a lock for the No. 1 pick in this April's draft. He floundered, and West Virginia's Geno Smith took over that title and did the same thing. Now this group of quarterbacks has perhaps the most question marks of any class during the past several years.
Some mock drafts are void of any quarterbacks in the first round. Some have three going in the top eight picks. So where do they go?
Smith is still thought to be the head of the class and is a real candidate for the No. 1 pick to the Kansas City Chiefs. Rob Rang and Dane Brugler, both of NFLDraftScout.com, have the Chiefs following that scenario. The Chiefs are under new management with head coach Andy Reid, which could benefit Smith. This scenario would help the Browns, as picking Smith means the Chiefs aren't taking others, namely Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel or Utah nose tackle Star Lotulelei, who could go in picks 2-5 and push a pass rusher or Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner farther down the board.
If the Chiefs choose to pass on Smith, he might have gotten some bad news yesterday. The Eagles were thought to be a candidate to take him but just restructured Michael Vick's contract, diminishing those chances.
Jacksonville, at No. 2, could opt to part ways with Blaine Gabbert, a No. 10 overall pick just two years ago who hasn't panned out. And the Raiders, picking third, reportedly won't want to pay Carson Palmer the $13 million he's due and might ask him to take a pay cut, creating a messy situation. Most believe the Jaguars and Raiders will take one of the top defensive players on the board, but taking Smith would be possible.
Should Smith be available at No. 6, and with the Browns brass seemingly not sold on Brandon Weeden, it's not impossible that Smith ends up in Cleveland. Check back later this week for more on that, and more on the other quarterbacks who could go high in the first round.
Which brings in two more names, and possibly a third: North Carolina State's Mike Glennon and Barkley carry high grades, and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson could impress and rise up draft boards. How these guys jockey position will be interesting to watch. All have question marks, all have shown glimpses of a first-round worthy quarterback. Barkley and Glennon are thought of as Nos. 2 and 3, respectively. Like Ponder and Locker, they could shoot up into the top 12.
All of this creates a logjam of teams possibly taking a quarterback right after the Browns at No. 7 and No. 8, Arizona and Buffalo, respectively. Both teams are possibly in the market for a quarterback and while only Smith is graded that high (which still might be a stretch), each team could reach and take a franchise quarterback.
Again, there could be three quarterbacks taken in the top eight picks. But what if all three choose to go different routes and take the best value at another position? After Buffalo at No. 8, there really isn't a team that appears to have a real need at quarterback (the Jets are perhaps the most likely but seem tied to Mark Sanchez). Where these three or four guys ends up will dominate the draft talk right up until that long-awaited Thursday night.
And because of the placement of two QB-needy teams picking right after the Browns, there's a chance this puts the Browns into a position to trade down. But more on that will come later this week (I apologize for the teasers, but there's too much to go over in one post).
2. Who goes No. 1, and is this draft "weak"? -- One of the biggest knocks on this year's draft is that it lacks a real No. 1-type player, like an Andrew Luck or Cam Newton. There aren't any players who look to be a surefire, can't-miss superstar.
But what this draft might have is a higher number of likely above-average starters in the NFL. At the moment, there are eight players carrying a grade of 95 or higher, according to Scout's Inc. Generally, 96 is the highest a player will be graded each year.
These names include Lotulelei, Joeckel, Milliner, Alabama guard Chance Warmack, Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher, Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro, Florida defensive tackle Shariff Floyd and LSU defensive end/outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo. After that comes Florida state Bjoern Werner, Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, Texas A&M defensive end/outside linebacker Damontre Moore and Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.
All of those guys, along with Smith, have a play at the No. 1 pick, making this a deep draft for the teams in the upper half of the order. So even though there isn't that superstar with the big name, there are enough great players that multiple teams will hit big with early in the draft. With many names that could go to different places, who hits, and who misses?
3. What's the status of Jarvis Jones' health? -- Like stated above, Jones has a real shot at being the best player in the draft class. Analysts say he "explodes on film" and "flies around the field." He racked up 28 sacks in two years at Georgia and on film, is as talented as any. And yet, according to some mocks (Brugler is one), he might not be drafted in even the top half of the first round.
In 2009, while at USC, Jones hurt his neck and was then diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine that puts pressure on the spinal cord. He wasn't cleared by USC's doctors to return to football and was told to quit the game. Jones transferred to Georgia, closer to home, sat out a year and then was immediately one of the best players in the nation for the Bulldogs.
Will NFL team doctors clear him? Teams might love him on film, even the Chiefs at No. 1. But if the team doctors don't feel comfortable with his condition, he could free fall on draft day (some think to the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 17).
4. Where does Manti Te'o end up and what happens to the Honey Badger? -- Two players who at one time held first-round grades will have to answer a lot of questions during the next two months.
Scout's Inc. had Te'o in the top 10 for most of the 2012 season before dropping him because of his on-the-field tape to begin with. Then came the Lennay Kekua hoax that mystified much of the country. It appears he might not have been in on the hoax, but did lie to the media about the details of his supposed relationship and at the least, came off as naive. Scouts will ask him how he's handling that situation. His draft stock was already slipping a little bit, and teams will have to weigh when his talent outweighs the off-the-field attention he'll garner, especially in his rookie year.
Tyrann Mathieu's interview at the NFL Scouting Combine might be the most important of any player. Mathieu went from Heisman finalist to out of college football after violating team rules. He was kicked off the team and then was caught with marijuana again, showing that clearly, it hadn't set in what was at stake for a player set to make first-round money.
Where these two guys are mentally might be more important than their 40-yard dash times.
5. How will the pass rushers rank after the combine? -- The draft's deepest position, pass rushers -- namely guys who scouts say could either act as a defensive end in a 4-3 or an outside linebacker in a 3-4 -- could do a lot of shuffling in the rankings at the combine.
There are multiple names with similar traits all set to be taken in the top half of the draft. Likewise, a high number of teams -- the Jaguars, Raiders, Eagles, Lions, Browns and the New York Jets -- could all use pass-rush help.
This sets up a scenario where very close grades could result in a wider window of picks than normal, from the second overall pick to out of the top 10 or even the top 15.
Moore, Mingo, Werner, Oregon's Dion Jordan, BYU's Ezekiel Ansah (a sleeper) and Jones will all be vying for position over one another at the top of the class.
There's a lot of ground to be made, so who emerges at the top?