Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller took home the last two Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year awards, but now his 2014 season is over. He is dealing with an injury to the same shoulder that ended his 2013 season prematurely.
Miller has already said he intends to return for the 2015 season in Columbus, which would represent his last chance to convince NFL teams of his potential.
It's worth wondering, is Miller an NFL-style quarterback?
The Ohio State system, made famous by Urban Meyer at Utah and Florida, asks the quarterback to be a heavy runner, and Miller has done that. In his three years as Ohio State's starter, Miller ran the ball (557 times) almost as often as he passed it (666 attempts).
Meyer tells high school coaches in his clinics that the offense is a "two-back backfield," and that's true. Miller runs the ball as much as a tailback, and that will lean heavily on how NFL scouts view him.
In my conversations with three NFL team scouts in preparation for the article, not one told me they viewed Miller as a quarterback prospect for the NFL. A career as a running back or wide receiver is likelier, according to pro scouts.
What does the tape tell us, though? NFL scouts are a great resource, but that group also had members calling Robert Griffin III a wide receiver before his Heisman Trophy-winning junior season.
Evaluating a quarterback's accuracy means more than just looking at the stats and seeing what his completion percentage was. Charting the game—keeping track of catches, incompletions, drops and where the ball was thrown from/caught—is key to understanding accuracy.
Miller shows good ball placement on throws both inside and outside the hashes. The Ohio State offense utilizes many short, quick throws to get the football out in space to the athletes, and his stats can be padded by these yards-after-the-catch throws.
How does Miller look making NFL-level throws? You won't see him throwing many 20-yard comebacks, but he does throw the deep ball often and is asked to work the sideline fairly regularly.
Miller's deep ball is good. He throws the ball with touch, enough arc and has the strength to put the ball up over the top of the receiver.
Against Michigan State, he did under-throw three deep balls, but each was still catchable. That can be chalked up to timing as well and isn't always a sign of poor accuracy.
In that same Michigan State game, playing behind an offensive line that could do nothing to slow down the Spartan pass rush, Miller threw a beautiful 30-yard pass on a rope outside the numbers from midfield. That's a pro-level throw, and he made it with velocity and the ball placement you want to see from a quarterback.
Evaluating Miller's true accuracy, or total field accuracy, is tough in the Ohio State scheme. He may throw fewer than five routes that extend farther than 10 yards in an entire game, which leaves you with a much smaller sample size than a Jameis Winston or Brett Hundley.
An ideal situation for Miller would be to showcase his accuracy and arm strength at the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine predraft.
It must be noted that Miller's injuries have been to his right (throwing) shoulder, so how much arm strength he has post-injury will depend heavily on his rehab.
Miller makes many uncontested throws in the Ohio State offense, but when he must throw with speed and velocity to a tight window, he's shown that he can do so.
Miller's entire body takes on a transformation when asked to throw passes that require velocity, as his front knee bends and he uses more of his core and back to get into the throw. The downside is that this lowers the release point for a quarterback who is already shorter (6'2") than the NFL would like.
There are times when Miller tries to loft or flick the ball out to space—especially if he's rolling and throwing the same direction—and those passes tend to sail high on him.
Learning to step into those throws when possible or turn his shoulders to match his hips—as opposed to throwing with his chest flat and hips turned—will fix the issue and help pull the ball down while building velocity.
Watching four games of Miller's (Michigan State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Clemson), you don't see many plays where he works through to a second or third receiver. He loves to work his primary target from the pocket but does work through his progressions on the run.
A common play for Miller is rolling or scrambling right and going through deep-intermediate-dump progressions.
He is at his best under pressure and will work to checkdowns with his eyes as the pocket closes around him.
When afforded time, Miller likes to get the ball to his first read. Adjusting to an NFL offense will vary in difficulty depending on where he's drafted.
A scheme like New England's would be a sharp adjustment for Miller, but an offense such as the one Colin Kaepernick ran in his first two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers would be an easier move for Miller to handle right away.
Without having the Ohio State playbook in front of you, it can be tough to see what Miller is asked to see pre-snap. What we can do is look at the defense and then see where Miller goes with his eyes post-snap to evaluate his reads.
The Ohio State offense gives Miller combination routes on one side of the field the majority of the time.
In this offense, Miller can recognize coverage pre-snap—ex. Is the cornerback playing up on the line of scrimmage or off the ball?—and determine before he even has the ball which side of the field he's going to.
The play above was used against Michigan State and shows a common read for Miller.
If the safety bites hard and comes up to play the slot receiver, Miller can throw over the top to the outside wide receiver. If the safety plays loose, and he did in the Spartans game, the dig route is there all day since the outside linebacker had inside leverage.
This is much of what we are seeing in the NFL now. Quarterbacks are making many of their decisions before the ball is snapped, and then the pass goes to whichever receiver the defense doesn't react to.
On this particular play, Miller made the right call and got the ball out to the flats. He could have challenged man coverage and thrown the deep route, but he had a given first down on the dig.
Miller is a phenomenal athlete, which is why some have suggested the move to running back as a possibility. You see that athleticism in the pocket when pressured.
Miller is able to make jaw-dropping moves on defenders and shows impressive strength for a smaller quarterback. He's shifty, light on his feet and demonstrates good balance in the pocket.
He also has a bad habit of trying to make something out of nothing.
You can call this Johnny Manziel Syndrome, as too many quarterbacks are trying to spin out of pressure and look for big plays—be it a run or pass. The act of spinning out of the pocket creates more negative yardage, though, and when the quarterback is sacked here, it can be a crippling thing for the offense.
There will be big plays and highlights from Miller and other quarterbacks, but the NFL wants to see a smart player in the pocket who will either climb the pocket, scramble to gain yardage or throw the ball away.
Miller has a ways to go in terms of pocket discipline, but he displays the running ability to become a threat when the pocket collapses.
The Final Word
Based on his 2012 and 2013 film, Miller currently projects as a late-round quarterback prospect. He's a developmental player who would need time to acclimate to the NFL and a more complex passing system.
Mechanically, he is fine, but a lack of ideal size and experience with a passing game similar to the pros are detriments to his prospects.
The biggest question NFL teams will have about Miller is his throwing shoulder. If that's a problem team doctors feel will continue to plague him, a move to running back may be the best option.
That may seem counterintuitive given his injuries and a position that asks him to be hit more often, but teams will not want to invest even a late-round pick in a quarterback with shoulder issues.
I see Miller as a quarterback prospect, but one with the positional flexibility to move if he struggles as a passer.
Will Miller stay in school, as he's announced he will do?
That's doubtful given his petition to the NFL Draft Advisory Board for a grade after his junior season. Miller may feel like he wants to return to the Buckeyes in 2015 right now, but another injury while playing for free is what every smart agent in the country will be warning him about between now and January.
If I had to bet on it, I would say Miller starts rehabbing and then working toward the 2015 NFL draft sooner rather than later.
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