At least once a day—and most times more—the past two weeks, I've received a phone call or e-mail from friends and relatives asking the same question in one form or another.
"Who are the Browns going to take in the first round?"
My answer to them is the same one that I'm going to run with as the premise for this piece.
"I don't know."
Beyond a doubt, this has been the most convoluted and smoke-filled run up to the draft that I can remember. Front office personnel around the league have dropped a massive haze of confusion and misdirection across the NFL landscape, the likes of which haven't been seen in quite some time.
Perhaps the guiltiest of all conspirators in this regard is none other than Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage. Simply put, Savage has been an absolute virtuoso this off-season, conducting his draft orchestra in Toscanini-like fashion.
He's talked up each of the consensus top-five picks, never once tipping his hand publicly as to his organization's intentions. In the last two months, every single member of the Fab Five has seen their names attached to stories stating that they are locks to be heading to Cleveland.
Here we stand, two days before the draft, and we are no closer to knowing with any degree of certainty which direction the Browns will go than we were two months ago.
In 2005, it was fairly common knowledge, even weeks before the draft, that Braylon Edwards was the clear choice for the Browns.
You didn't have to be a Kreskin or an NFL insider to see the direction the Browns were headed.
This year, however, the only thing that is certain is that uncertainty reigns in Brownstown.
And why is that? With a flick of his wrist, Savage has consistently waved his draft baton and changed the tenor of draft perception, seemingly at his own whim.
Somebody's getting too close to learning the truth?
Flick, and the focus shifts to yet another member of the Fab Five.
And as frustrating as that might be for the media and fans alike, it's part of Savage's job description. To not tip his hand and put his club in the strongest possible position heading into the draft.
Add Savage's masterful conducting job to the bizarre drafts of the Detroit Lions in the past, and the mystery that surrounds nearly every decision made by the secretive Oakland Raiders, and you have the perfect storm for mass confusion at the top of the draft.
With all of that being said, we have been able to glean information from around the league—from both inside and outside of the organization—and are fairly confident that we have a very good idea the direction the Browns are leaning right now.
First of all, the Browns are absolutely convinced that both Jamarcus Russell and Calvin Johnson will be gone before they are on the clock. Regardless of the teams involved—whether it's Oakland and Detroit, or another team that trades up—the organization sees some combination of Johnson and Russell going one-two.
If that were to happen, we've been told by more than a few parties with knowledge of the Browns' thought process, the Browns attention would then turn to Brady Quinn.
"Based on what I know, if Russell and Johnson are gone, Quinn would be their guy," one source told The OBR, a statement that has been corroborated by several other sources.
There is also the possibility that, if Johnson and Russell are the first two off the board, the Browns would look to move down to the #5 slot and still grab Quinn. The Cardinals, owners of the #5 pick, are completely enamored with Joe Thomas and are concerned that the Bucs could grab him with the fourth pick.
So, in that case, the Browns could still get their man—provided the Bucs don't grab him—and pick up on additional first-day pick or two.
Now, should both Russell and Quinn be taken one-two, where would the Browns turn? They'd turn their attention toward the Southeast and pluck running back Adrian Peterson with the third overall pick.
Even with the latest news involving Peterson possibly needing surgery on his injured collar bone, Peterson is a very real possibility at #3 if neither QB is available. The Browns were privy to Peterson's medical information nearly two months ago, and their grading of him did not change and has not changed since.
In yet another potential, albeit unlikely, scenario, both Quinn and Russell could be on the board. If that were the case, Russell would be Phil's guy.
"It's no secret that Savage has carried somewhat of a crush on Russell for years, and the opportunity to select him would be too much to resist," a source said.
The source also added that Russell is the only player that Savage would trade up for, although he concedes that "it is very, very unlikely" the GM would pull the trigger.
And what about Thomas as he pertains to the Browns, you ask? According to one source, the Wisconsin offensive lineman has become an afterthought.
"While things could change, as it stands now Thomas is not in (the Browns) plans. Nothing is set in stone, but they have shifted what was minimal focus away from (Thomas)," the source said.
So there you have it. Now you have a glimpse at what may be going on in the bunkers and war room of the heavily fortified Berea complex.
Provided you could read through the smoke, of course.