Is Braxton Miller Worthy of an NFL Draft 1st-Round Pick?

Ben AxelrodBig Ten Lead WriterApril 27, 2016

Ohio State wide receiver Braxton Miller runs a drill during NFL Pro Day at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, Friday, March 11, 2016 (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
Paul Vernon/Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the rumor-filled circus that is the NFL draft approaching Thursday, the only certainty in the NFL right now seems to be this: Ohio State will have a heavy presence in Chicago at this weekend's selection show.

With more than 70 percent of Ohio State's starting lineup and nine underclassmen having departed from last year's team, as many as 14 ex-Buckeyes could wind up hearing their names called by the end of this weekend. And while it still has yet to be determined how many former Ohio State stars are drafted and where each will land, there may not be a bigger enigma in the bunch than Braxton Miller.

"The two wild cards are Cardale [Jones] and Braxton," Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said last month. "They're the ones that don't have enough tape."

In the case of Jones, the question marks are obvious. Miller's situation, however, is a little more complicated—and perhaps more likely to bring a much higher upside to whichever team selects the quarterback-turned-wideout.

At the moment, Miller's draft positioning heading into the weekend remains unclear. Ranked by Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Analyst Matt Miller as the draft's eighth-best wide receiver and No. 54 overall player, the two-time Big Ten MVP seems likely to be selected Friday night in either the draft's second or third round.

That's not too shabby for a player who may not have even been picked at all had he remained at his former position. But with so much uncertainty and smokescreens aplenty entering this year's draft, is it possible the 6'1", 201-pounder could sneak into Thursday's first round of 31 picks?

Possible? Sure. After all, as recently as last month, Matt Miller had Braxton pegged as a first-round pick.

However, it will depend on a number of variables Thursday.

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

For example, if there's a run on receivers—a position at which the top prospects seem to be bunched together as mid-teens-to-20s picks—Miller's chances of hearing his name called Thursday night would increase. Working in Miller's favor is that last year, six wideouts were taken in the draft's first round—the most since 2009.

Also working to his advantage is Miller's apparent untapped potential. While he may have just totaled 26 catches for 341 yards and three touchdowns in his first and only college season as a wide receiver, the ex-Ohio State speedster should only get better as he gains more experience at his still-new position.

"At the end of the day, he got one year under his belt at the position, maybe half a year, and he maximized that half a year," said Buckeyes wide receivers coach Zach Smith. "He's not a finished product. He probably won't be for another year, but he's going to be able to go in and make an impact like one of the best athletes in the country that's actually pretty fundamentally sound at receiver."

It's unlikely Miller will be drafted before potential first-round picks in Ole Miss' Laquon Treadwell, Baylor's Corey Coleman, TCU's Josh Doctson or college teammate Michael Thomas. But it's not unrealistic to think he could slide ahead of higher-rated receivers like Notre Dame's Will Fuller or Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard.

While Fuller and Shepard may be more polished and ready to contribute to their new teams right away, Miller's higher ceiling could make him a more attractive option for one of the better teams in the back of the first round who could afford to wait on his development.

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

"Some will want to label Miller as a 'gadget player,' but he's more than that," Matt Miller wrote of Braxton in his final evaluation. "His athleticism and speed make him a candidate to have a Randall Cobb or Hines Ward-like role in the NFL."

While those may be lofty comparisons, this past offseason has shown glimpses into Miller's potential greatness.

Thanks in large part to a dominant performance at the Senior Bowl, where NFL scouts named the Huber Heights, Ohio, native the week's best practice performer, Miller's draft stock has only risen since his college career came to an end. And although his NFL Scouting Combine workout was more solid than spectacular, he bounced back with an Ohio State pro day performance that saw him run an unofficial 4.33-second 40-yard dash.

"All the stress is gone now. Senior Bowl, combine, pro day. I checked off all those," Miller said following his pro day. "I answered all the questions. I didn't leave any doubt out on the field. So I did what I had to do."

Now it's time to see where Miller's offseason as a workout warrior lands him—and when.

If teams agree Miller compares favorably to an All-Pro like Cobb and a potential Hall of Famer like Ward, a first-round selection certainly isn't out of the question.

Will that be enough to outweigh the questions teams still have about a "wild card" with less than a year of experience at his position and a history of injuries?

Perhaps.

But all it takes is one.

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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