For the last two year’s I’ve really enjoyed watching Von Miller (DE, Texas A&M). It’s hard not to appreciate a guy who makes plays, impacts games and stands out on film. There aren’t many players in the college ranks that have been more fun to watch during 2009-10.
I still wouldn’t draft him as high as most people are suggesting right now.
My opinion on Miller has been consistent throughout, dating back to January last year when it was debated whether he’d declare for the 2010 draft. While most pundits wax lyrical about his abilities and adopt him as a top 5-10 shoe-in, I have some reservations. This has sometimes come across as a dislike for Miller – but that’s far from the truth.
If I had to list the five players I’ve enjoyed watching the most these past two seasons, Miller would be in there.
I love to see guys who consistently rush the passer with success – creating pressure without the need for heavy blitz packages. You put on Texas A&M tape and see this guy beating his man time and time again with pure speed and despite his size, showing a decent repertoire of moves and mixing it up in a solid defensive scheme.
The results are fantastic – 28 sacks the last two seasons. This despite a four-game sackless stretch last August as he fought to recover from a troublesome ankle injury. When Miller finally hit top form, he exploded into life with his eleven 2010 sacks coming in just nine games.
Perhaps his best performance came against the Texas Longhorns. I’ve added the tape to this article (see below). More on that in a moment.
So if I’m such a big fan of Miller and have enjoyed watching him these past two seasons – why am I down on his stock?
Let’s just look at what he does well – he’s an explosive speed rusher. If he can jump the snap and get a step on the offensive lineman, you’re in trouble. Miller is so quick off the edge he’s occasionally unblock-able. There’s very little mystery to his success at A&M – he’s just incredibly quick with a frame that doesn’t restrict that speed.
However, when a tackle can get his hands on Miller, he tends to struggle. He looks every bit a 235-240lbs prospect and he hasn’t got the upper body strength needed to disengage. He abused a lot of flat footed, average athletes playing tackle in college with speed. Will he have the same success at the next level? Is he going to be able to counter initial contact? Will pro-tackles cope comfortably with that speed by showing him the edge and running him out of a good angle?
People talk about Clay Matthews and perhaps his impact will help Miller, but Matthews is much stronger at the point of attack and is more than willing to mix it up with a big tackle. I’m not sure Miller will ever cope as well.
That is one thing that bothers me, the second is perhaps more vital. If you are hoping to draft the guy and play him up at the line like at A&M, you’re asking for trouble on running downs. Miller will just get exploited time and time again playing up front against the run. He’s lean all over and while he understands leverage better than most, he’s just going to get flushed out. You can’t expect him to set an edge and while prospects like Justin Houston (DE, Georgia) have shown they are capable of handling those duties – Miller will be a liability at the next level.
For those reasons I have long suspected his best fit would be as an outside linebacker. Miller has very good lateral speed and when asked to cover a zone he will have success (although he certainly has limitations in man coverage). That in itself is a reason why I’m not as high as others. You’re talking about a transition to a new position, even if it’s one that should match his skill set. You can find productive 4-3 linebackers comfortably outside of round one most years. It simply isn’t a high value position. For every Brian Cushing there’s a failure – and both Cushing and Aaron Curry have a good 15-20lbs on Miller.
Despite his 17-sack season in 2009, he was only issued a third round grade by the draft committee and this played some part in his decision not to declare last year. I partly agreed with the grade and at least understood it - after all, the 2010 class was particularly deep and competitive. He almost certainly would’ve been a second round pick at worst considering his production and speed.
Another year of sacks and top drawer performances improved his stock and with this being a weaker class in terms of depth – I understand why his stock is on the up. Even so, the same question marks exist from last year. I think he’s a solid pick in the 25-40 region, where you can transition him to linebacker and find creative ways to make him effective on third down as a pass rusher.
If he goes in the top five or ten picks like some people project, you want more than that. You’re expecting consistent pressure on first and second down and you’re looking for him to be the X-factor. I can see Miller achieving a very solid 6-7 sacks in year one on pure blitz packages, but he isn’t going to be an every down dynamo who persistently causes problems off the edge like we saw in college.
Events like the Senior Bowl are tailor-made for guys like Miller. The drills are perfect for him to show off his great change of direction skills, his ball location, anticipation, fluid balance and pure speed and athleticism. The combine will build the hype-factor up even more.
It doesn’t highlight the obstacles he’ll face for a team who wants to draft him early.
Tim Ruskell isn’t the only talent evaluator who values Senior prospects from big programmes with solid production and character. Most NFL teams look at guys like that as solid gold. I appreciate why he’s being talked up at the moment and why he’s suddenly this consensus high pick. Positive reports on Miller will do as much good for his wallet as the negative press will impact Ryan Mallett’s.
I want to see Miller do well at the next level and rest assured even if I do grade him lower than most – I’ll still be excited to see him perform in the NFL. I’m always prepared to be proven wrong by a prospect. I want to be proven wrong because wishing someone to fail just to back up points made on a draft blog is unnecessary.
Even so – I’d offer caution to those fans hoping their team selects him as early as possible. He can be effective at the next level, but he isn’t going to be Clay Matthews, Demarcus Ware or any of the other elite pass rushers currently tearing up the league.
Let’s look at the tape, as always courtesy of the sensational Aaron Aloysius:
Watching the video it’s not hard to see why Texas had a bitterly disappointing 2010 season. The regularity with which Miller is unblocked is unreal. Texas A&M have one decorated star defensive player in his senior year and he’s basically treated like an unknown freshman.
Although it’s possibly Miller’s most striking game of the 2010 season, the Longhorns offensive line lay a big egg during this one. Look at the play at 0:54 where the tackle pulls left and almost collides with the tight end, obstructing his ability to get to Miller who takes full advantage. The play of the tackle at 1:37 is unacceptable, failing to get his hands on Miller at all as he dodges inside with ease. We see at 1:49 and 1:58 what happens when you can get to Miller and he can’t disengage.
Overall the Texas tackles are not remotely athletic enough to cope with Miller. He won’t get an easy ride like this most Sunday’s.
One thing I didn’t mention above is Miller’s ability to dissect traffic. You see this at 1:18, 2:21 and 3:48 where he plots a route through the middle to get pressure on the QB. Justin Houston doesn’t do this enough and it hurts his stock, Miller is adept at cutting inside and not relying purely on an edge rush. He may even be more effective in the NFL changing it up like this – using his fluid balance and hips to swerve through the crowd and execute with a closing burst.
The final play on the tape is an interception – flashing his ability in zone coverage. He should have some success there and that may appeal to both 4-3 and 3-4 teams, but I’m not convinced he’ll have the same success when asked to cover in man or watch a tight end.