Welcome to part three of our look at Ohio State's 2016 NFL Draft prospects.
Over the course of the weeks ahead we will take a look at each of Ohio State's potential draft selections, and find out not only what they achieved at Ohio State (spoiler: a lot), but also what we can expect them to achieve at the next level (spoiler: a lot more). Now, the only two time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, number five in your program (depending on the year), but number one in your heart, Braxton Miller.
Braxton Miller's career at Ohio State started pretty much the same way it ended: exciting and unplanned. A five-star dual threat quarterback out of Dayton, Ohio, the original plan was for Miller to redshirt behind Terrelle Pryor for a year before taking over the Buckeyes' offense himself. If it were only that easy.
Following the infamous tattoo-gate, Miller permanently seized the starting quarterback job after the 2-3 Buckeyes watched Joe Bauserman go 1/10 passing against Nebraska (seriously). Miller briefly restored hope in Columbus with three straight wins over Big Ten foes, but the pinnacle of this win streak occurred under the bright lights in Columbus. Miller's chaotic game-winning touchdown against Wisconsin saw him simultaneously outrun the Wisconsin defensive line while also hitting Devin Smith in the end-zone for the go-ahead score with just 20 seconds left. Hindsight makes this game even sweeter, as the victory came against now Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson, as well as now Big Ten hater Bret Bielema.
Miller's freshman season ended with four consecutive losses (including a late Miller overthrow to an open DeVier Posey against TTUN, sigh), but the real loss was watching Miller try to function as a quarterback in the pre-spread Ohio State offense. No one doubted Miller's explosiveness or running ability (as evidenced by his then Ohio State quarterback record 81-yard touchdown run against Indiana), but any quarterback who completes just 54 percent of his passes is bound to face at least some scrutiny. Enter: Urban Meyer.
Miller's sophomore season is another example of him (kind of) getting the short end of the stick. Despite helping the Buckeyes rattle off a perfect 12-0 record, Miller was unable to showcase his ability on a true national stage thanks to Ohio State being ineligible for the postseason. But, a 12-0 season is still a reason to rejoice, as was watching Miller in Meyer's spread offense.
Meyer in particular was enamored by Miller, and Meyer truly believes Miller is the reason for Ohio State's quick rise to power.
"It's immense the feelings we all have for him because we all know how average we were, especially on offense our first year. If you don't have that kid, you start your coaching career here at Ohio State with a .500 or 8-5 or 8-4 record or whatever it is...If you don't get momentum those other great things don't happen or certainly doesn't happen in that time frame. Braxton is the ultimate competitor. He just means a lot to us."
2013 marked the first season that the Miller-led Buckeyes had a real chance at making some noise in the postseason. Another 12-0 regular season made Miller and Meyer 24-0 together, and this was highlighted by Miller's 286 total yards and five touchdowns against TTUN, including one filthy juke that showed just how dangerous Miller could be in the open field.
You probably know the rest, despite scoring 24 and 35 points against Michigan State and Clemson respectively, a flimsy pass defense coupled with indecision in giving El Guapo the ball led to the Buckeyes dropping Miller's first two postseason games. However, there was still plenty of reason to be optimistic in Buckeyes country, as the 2014 team figured to be Miller's strongest yet.
...Or not. One shoulder surgery led to another, and Miller was forced out of action for the duration of the 2014-2015 National Championship season. Rumors surrounded Miller's next move, some pointing to a transfer, some a position change. Throughout it all Miller remained silent, but this time Miller had a plan all along.
Miller's position change to wide receiver made Ohio State's three headed quarterback controversy a bit easier for Meyer to figure out, and gave Miller his best opportunity to get on the field for his senior season.
The season started out about as perfectly as anyone could have imagined. 140 total yards and two touchdowns against Virginia Tech seemed to point towards a seamless transition for the electric Miller, and a certain spin move blew up twitter in a way Miller had never done before.
While Miller and his 601 total yards and four touchdowns were far from an afterthought in the Ohio State offense, Buckeyes fans couldn't help but wish for the same 50+ yard touchdowns we had grown accustomed to seeing from Miller on a weekly basis.
Some pointed to Miller's up and down senior year as a sign that Miller struggled with his transition to wide receiver, but Miller's fantastic performance this past week in Senior Bowl practices has led to speculation that there is no chance Miller escapes the second round.
So what is that makes Miller such a can't miss prospect? Let's take a look.
Strengths: Explosiveness, playmaking ability
Any other descriptors that are similar to "fast" or "athletic" would also work here. No one doubts Miller's ability to make people miss with the ball in his hands, and it should say something about a player's speed when the player himself projects he'll run a 4.28 at the combine.
While Miller showcased his game breaking ability in the open field plenty as a senior, one doesn't have to look very far into Miller's career to see the same traits that make him such a coveted offensive threat.
While current Buckeyes quarterback J.T Barrett has his fair share of designed quarterback runs, Miller was essentially the Buckeyes' quarterback and running back as a sophomore. On this particular play against the California Golden Bears, Miller is lined up in the backfield with now Super Bowl starting wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown.
While Miller has sometimes made a bad habit of bouncing the ball outside versus trusting the play design, this was not the case on this play. Following a fake sweep to Brown which held the backside linebackers, Miller receives a nice kick out block from his tight end.
Upon cutting inside off of his fullback's block, Miller is faced with a one on one match-up in the open field against a safety (who doesn't appear to know how screwed he is just yet).
A quick shimmy sends number six onto the ground and in need of ankle support, and from there it was all Miller and his 4.28 speed on his way to an electrifying 55-yard touchdown. Watching Miller dance around in the backfield could become annoying at times for fans, but a player with Miller's speed and quickness is able to turn any regular play into a touchdown, which makes all the short runs worth it in the end.
Weaknesses: Raw, early on in his receiver development
I actually had "route running" listed here two weeks ago, but then the Senior Bowl happened, which included numerous examples of Miller making defensive backs look silly (here's one).
But, despite such a good Senior Bowl performance, questions still remain regarding Miller's ability as a complete receiver. Basically, if Miller is such a dominant route runner in practice, where was this during the season?
There have been some theories surrounding Miller's lack of production at receiver, but any issues teams have with Miller should be held with the caveat that at least Miller has already proved to be a playmaker at receiver.
Most college quarterbacks that are good enough to play a different position in the pros have typically proven this while playing quarterback in college, and since most teams don't have three quality options at quarterback, these athletes like Denard Robinson and Nick Marshall were forced to only pursue playing different positions full time upon graduating. For Miller to already have a season under his belt that showcased his ability to make tough catches and make plays as a receiver is great for his development, and is a big reason why we are talking about Miller in the front half of the draft compared to the back.
Best Case NFL Comparison: Hines Ward
Hines Ward, or the Georgia Bowl's all-time leading passer, was a college quarterback just like Miller upon being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Like Miller, Ward split time in college at quarterback as well as receiver, and this was enough to boost Ward into the third round of the draft.
The Steelers' all-time leading receiver was undersized at just six feet tall and 205 pounds (Miller came into the Senior bowl at 6'1, 205 lbs), but Ward made a career out of being Ben Roethlisberger's go to man. In addition to his receiving skills, Ward also made defenses pay in a variety of ways, as evidenced by his 57 career carries.
Obviously a 14-year Hall of Fame career may seem a bit optimistic for Miller, but Ward is really the best example of a college quarterback successfully transitioning to wide receiver, and a player of Miller's capabilities should never strive for anything other than the best.
Worst Case NFL Comparison: Antwaan Randle El
Or, the guy who threw Ward a touchdown pass in Super Bowl XL. Randle El was far from a scrub in his nine year NFL career with the Steelers and Redskins, but his production peaked as a rookie with 66 total touches. The ex-Indiana quarterback made his living as the Steelers slot receiver, and despite never quite becoming a complete wide receiver, Randle El regularly made defenses pay as a return man and runner as well.
Will Miller ever become a polished wide receiver? That question remains unclear, but I would be hard pressed to believe that Miller won't become at least a serviceable playmaker at the next level. Like Randle El, players with this much talent are hard to come by, and coaches will do whatever it takes to get them the ball. It is up to Miller to prove if he can be the focal point of an offense, or merely another weapon. All in all, not two bad options.
NFL Draft Projection: Round 2
While this was more of a round three grade before last week, Miller's performance in the Senior bowl, coupled with what should be quite a combine performance in a few months, leads me to believe there is no way an athlete of Miller's caliber will make it out of the second round.
Most "Braxton" Play
Sure, the spin was amazing and I have watched that play approximately 500 times since September, but I'm not about to disagree with Braxton himself about which Ohio State play was his best. Thanks for the great career Braxton, you will be missed.