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Browns could be juggernaut; 5 bowls that will shape NFL draft

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  • By Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks NFL.com
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Editor's note: NFL.com analysts and former NFL scouts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks of the Move The Sticks Podcast share some of their scouting notes, including:

» Jeremiah's look at five bowl games that will shape the NFL draft
» Why NFL teams in need of a RB will be in luck in 2018
» An under-the-radar prospect who could make a big NFL impact next season

But first, we kick off this week's notebook with Brooks' take on the state of the Browns following the club's front-office changes and what they need do to make the team a contender.

If you ask any personnel man what he would desire in a rebuilding job, he would request plenty of top draft picks and a tremendous amount of cap space. That's why I've always believed the Cleveland Browns' general manager job would provide a "football guy" with a dream scenario to lead a quick turnaround for one of the NFL's most iconic franchises. Sure, you're taking over a franchise that has only compiled a 4-46 record in its last 50 games, but you have plenty of ammunition to build a juggernaut in the AFC North.

Now, I know we normally don't associate the Browns with the word "juggernaut" but an astute evaluator like the team's new GM, John Dorsey, could make it a reality if he can execute a detailed plan that, as he said this past week, helps "reawake this sleeping giant". Although I haven't talked to Dorsey about his plans, I believe he can quickly reverse the Browns' fortunes with a few additions that help the roster move closer to the championship level that used to be the standard for a franchise with eight world championships.

The first step in that process has to be finding a franchise quarterback who can lead the team out of the doldrums. In a quarterback-driven league, it is imperative to have a QB1 capable of winning at the highest level. Dorsey alluded to that fact when he addressed what he looks for in a quarterback in his introductory press conference.

"Got to win -- No. 1," Dorsey said, per the Akron Beacon Journal. "You have to have the physical skills that we all see. Feet are important in today's football. Accuracy is very important. Do they have the mindset of the head coach? Can they comprehend and digest that playbook?

"Do guys naturally gravitate to him from a leadership component? What does he do in adverse situations? How does he react? Can he extend the play? Can he drive it and win it at the end of the game? These are the little things you look for."

Based on his criteria and the desire to orchestrate a quick turnaround, I believe the Browns should bypass one of the overhyped quarterbacks in the 2018 class and focus their efforts on landing a veteran signal-caller with a winning resume. Given Dorsey's successful track record with Alex Smith in Kansas City, the veteran could be the perfect guy to man the position until DeShone Kizer grows into a capable QB1 or the team identifies a long-term solution in the upcoming drafts. If Smith, who's signed through 2018, isn't available via trade or as a free agent, the Browns could jump in the anticipated Kirk Cousins sweepstakes or target a mid-level free agent quarterback -- Tyrod Taylor or AJ McCarron would be worth considering, should they hit the open market.

Once the QB riddle is solved, Dorsey can turn his attention to the draft and free agency to add more pieces to a roster that needs 10 blue-chip players to compete at a championship level. The Browns currently have five legitimate blue-chip players (Josh Gordon, Joe Thomas, Kevin Zeitler, Joel Bitonio and Jamie Collins) and a few ascending players with blue-chip potential (Myles Garrett and Danny Shelton). Thus, they are really not that far away from fielding a roster that could compete with the elites.

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The Browns' new general manager prefers to build through the draft with free agency used as a tool to supplement areas that can't be addressed on draft day. Given the current composition of the team's roster, the Browns might be wise to invest in a couple of veteran pass-catchers (wide receiver and tight end) in free agency. The addition of dependable pass-catchers will help the quarterback grow, particularly a young QB1 (see the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams). On the defensive side of the ball, the Browns could use a veteran cornerback to man the No. 1 post and a playmaking safety to complement Jabrill Peppers. While those areas certainly can be solidified on draft day, the Browns' youthful roster would benefit from some veteran leadership and production.

On draft day, the Browns should focus on maximizing their Day 1 and Day 2 picks. With five picks in the first two rounds, including four selections that are likely to be within the first 40 picks, the team has an opportunity to land a handful of impact players. The Browns' surplus of early picks could lead to a fruitful harvest. The team could take advantage of deep classes at the running back, cornerback and safety positions in the draft. -- Bucky Brooks

5 BOWL GAMES THAT WILL SHAPE THE DRAFT

With bowl season set to kick off on Saturday, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at the games that could have the biggest impact on the 2018 draft. Here are my top five:

1. Rose Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Georgia, Jan. 1

This game is all about Baker Mayfield. Much has been made about the lack of defense played in the Big 12 conference, but consider this: If Mayfield lights up Georgia's defense, he will have built quite an impressive senior resume. He went on the road and carved up a very talented Ohio State defense. He played very well in two wins over TCU, a team coached by one of the preeminent defensive minds in the country, Gary Patterson. Adding a win against Georgia's loaded defense would be an incredible topper to Mayfield's career and could cement his status as a first-round pick this spring.

2. Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Clemson, Jan. 1

Scouts will have their eyes in the trenches for this one. Clemson's defensive line is loaded with NFL talent and Alabama is always physical on the offensive line. I can't wait to see how Clemson's Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell respond to this challenge.

3. Cotton Bowl: USC vs. Ohio State, Dec. 29

Sam Darnold was the talk of bowl season last spring after his epic performance against Penn State in the Rose Bowl. He gets another shot at the champion of the Big Ten conference later this month when the Trojans take on Ohio State. According to Darnold, he hasn't made up his mind about whether or not he will enter the 2018 NFL Draft or return to school. His performance in this contest might have a big impact on his decision. It will be must-watch television.

4. Fiesta Bowl: Penn State vs. Washington, Dec. 30

This game features college football's most talented running back (Saquon Barkley) and its most talented run stopper (Vita Vea). While everyone in the country is familiar with Barkley, I'm not sure Vea gets the credit he deserves. He is a 340-pound dancing bear. He dominates on tape and shows the ability to reset the line of scrimmage on just about every down. I can't wait to see him chase Barkley around for four quarters in the Fiesta Bowl.

5. Citrus Bowl: Notre Dame vs. LSU, Jan. 1

Notre Dame has the best offensive line in college football and LSU features one of the most talented defensive lines in the country. I'm hoping Arden Key will play in this contest because it will be a dream for NFL scouts to watch him battle ND OT Mike McGlinchey. Key has been disappointing this fall, but a big game against a high-quality opponent could really help elevate his stock. -- Daniel Jeremiah

THE RUNDOWN ON RUSHERS

The 2017 draft class was loaded with depth and talent at the running back position. However, if your favorite NFL team didn't procure its "back of the future" last spring, there's probably no need to worry. The 2018 class could be stocked with starting-caliber ball carriers.

I've spent the past week grinding through game tape (that sounds more arduous than it really was ... I love watching this position!) and I've been blown away by this group of prospects.

We're still a month away from the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft, so we don't know if all of these backs will be available for NFL teams in 2018, but here's a quick glance at some of the top players at the position. Sony Michel, Nick Chubb and Rashaad Penny are the seniors on the list below.

Saquon Barkley, Penn State: Don't get fooled by the numbers. Barkley is a unique talent. He's a combination of Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott on the field. Special player.

Derrius Guice, LSU: Guice is a fun player to study on tape. He reminds me of a young Frank Gore. He has a nice mix of quickness, elusiveness and strength.

Ronald Jones, USC: Jones is often compared to Jamaal Charles because of his home-run burst and slithery running style. He's improved in the passing game this fall.

Sony Michel, Georgia: I love the way Michel drops his shoulder and finishes runs. He's also very loose and fluid for a bigger back.

Kerryon Johnson, Auburn: Johnson has battled injuries this fall, but when healthy, he looks just like Le'Veon Bell. I love his patience, vision and balance.

Bryce Love, Stanford: Love lacks ideal size, but he has outstanding top speed and surprising power. He fought through a high ankle sprain this fall, displaying both his competitiveness and toughness.

Nick Chubb, Georgia: Chubb isn't a burner, but his contact power and balance is outstanding. Defenders bounce off of him repeatedly in the games I studied. He reminds me of Jonathan Stewart, although Chubb doesn't have quite the same top speed that Stewart possesses.

Rashaad Penny, San Diego State: You can't argue with Penny's production and he adds value in the return game, as well. He's a much better NFL prospect than former SDSU RB Donnel Pumphrey (fourth-round pick of the Eagles) was last spring.

Damien Harris, Alabama: I haven't finished my study of Harris just yet, but I've been impressed by his versatility. He does everything well.

Josh Adams, Notre Dame: Adams is a straight-line runner with an intriguing blend of size/speed. He was fortunate to run behind the top offensive line in the country, but he displayed very good vision and decisiveness. -- Daniel Jeremiah

THE PRICE IS RIGHT

Over the past 15 years, Ohio State has produced an incredible amount of talented center prospects: LeCharles Bentley (2002), Nick Mangold (2006), Corey Linsley (2014) and Pat Elflein (2017). Not a bad group.

Well, the tradition will continue in the 2018 draft.

I recently studied Buckeyes senior Billy Price and he's one of the best center prospects I've seen in the past decade. He has tremendous upper body torque, quick feet and outstanding awareness. Elflein has enjoyed an outstanding rookie campaign with the Vikings, and I think Price is a superior player on college tape. I gave Price the same grade I gave Mangold when he entered the league, and Mangold ended up being a first-round selection.

Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson is clearly the top interior lineman in the country this fall, but I'd put Price right behind him. Both guys are built to have immediate and lasting success at the next level. -- Daniel Jeremiah

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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