Caution: Senior Bowl hype

Von Miller a top-five pick? Really? Surely not?

The Senior Bowl is a fantastic opportunity for the top senior prospects to showcase their skills, put their name on the map and improve their draft stock.

It’s also an opportunity for snap judgements and an awful lot of unnecessary hype.

I read a tweet yesterday that nearly made me drop my phone. ESPN insider and all round brilliant reporter Adam Schefter posted the following:

“To those asking where Texans A+M LB Von Miller will go in the NFL draft, the early signs are, Top 5 pick.”

This isn’t likely Schefter’s opinion rather information he’s received from people watching work outs and from inside the NFL. I suspect it’s hyperbole.

Miller is a guy I’ve been watching for two years now. After a 17-sack season in 2009 it seemed likely he’d declare for the subsequent draft. Then he received a third-round grade from the draft committee and returned to Texas A&M for his senior year.

At no point in watching tape of Miller did I think he looked like a top-five pick.

Here’s what I saw: excellent speed used to consistently exploit college opponents by rushing the edge. The huge production is emphasis on that and his skills in coverage gradually kept improving. At the same time I saw only a marginal first round prospect.

He’s about 238lbs and it showed sometimes when he took on big offensive lineman. I’m not even talking about elite athletes at the position – just big bodied guys who could just use their size and strength to knock him out of the play. In the NFL, he’s not going to be able to rely on edge speed over and over again. The big guys will also be elite athletes, capable of restricting his edge speed and dominating him due to size. He can’t play defensive end or LEO because teams will target him again and again against the run. Miller will just get washed out and become a liability.

Can he play outside linebacker in the 3-4? Maybe – because playing in space will allow him to pick his gap and use the speed to rush the passer. He’s no slouch in coverage – but again he’s a bit of a one-trick pony. It’s all about his nimble frame and speed which is fine in college, but won’t be in the NFL.

For me his best fit is at OLB in the 4-3, but even then he’s under sized and will need to adapt to that position. He’s about 12lbs lighter than draft bust Aaron Maybin (taken 11th overall by Buffalo) who has struggled to have any impact at all because he can’t rely on speed and quicks alone at the next level.

He’s got mixed reviews from the Senior Bowl. Some say he’s been the star of the show, others (like Tony Pauline) have been reporting a struggle:

“Not a good day for a guy that’s projected to be a 3-4 OLB.  Was easily controlled by blocks all day and at one point got annihilated by Luke Stocker.  Showed decent skills in coverage when he had to move in reverse. Miller was brought over to the pass rush drills to showcase his talents, which were average at best.”

The hype surrounding Von Miller sums up the issue I have with the Senior Bowl. Tape is generally pushed aside while we watch guys work out in unnatural situations. A bit of talk about a prospect performing well suddenly leads to a power surge.

It’s a similar situation for Colin Kaepernick (QB, Nevada). Suddenly he’s a second round pick because he’s flashed a strong arm this week. Suspect mechanics are seemingly ignored because the guy can throw it downfield under no pressure. Titus Young (WR, Boise State) apparently hugged Mike Mayock today because of a positive review on the NFL Network which has boosted his stock.

Some prospects will thrive in isolated work outs and walkthroughs. While you need to be prepared to be impressed and possibly proven wrong – I just don’t think you can beat watching game tape. When I watched the tape – I saw a lot to like about Von Miller, but also a lot of concerns about how he translates to the next level. I wouldn’t roll the dice on an under sized project 4-3 linebacker in round one.

Can Von Miller be a top 10-15 pick? Sure – why not? That kind of pick has been made before. It’d be a huge mistake in my opinion though. I’m also willing to be proven wrong, so we’ll see how it works out.


  1. Charlie

    Hey rob, this doesnt have to to with the senior bowl, sorry its off topic, but with jeff fisher out in Tennesee, do you think the seahawks would consider ousting gus bradley for him? is that even possible? just wondering your thoughts, thanks

    • Rob

      I’d be very surprised. I suspect he’ll take a year out and then go back into a head coaching role.

  2. T-Town

    Wow im surprised anyone has Miller going in the top 5. Not only because of the problems you listed concerning Miller but the fact that the teams picking 1-5 have other more pressing needs, as well as there being arguably greater talent available. That being said. I wont really be surprised to see Miller go in the top 15 to a team which needs to upgrade its LB corps.

    Kaepernick worries me a lot however. Great height and his athletic ability makes him quite mobile for someone who is 6’6. His release however is terrible. It is one of the most elongated releases I have noticed. Makes Tebow look like Drew Brees in comparison. Then again Tebow was able to improve his technique with some help so I’m sure Kaepernick could be coached up just as well.

    • Ben

      Kaepernick was measured at 6’4.5″ at the Senior Bowl.

      • T-Town

        Just shows you how widely different sources vary. He had been listed as 6’6 by most sites all season including Nevada itself.

        6 4.5 is still good NFL size.

        Now I wonder if Mallet is really 6’6 or if his height has been exaggerated all season as well.

  3. Capt Obvious

    makes you wonder if he meant “top 5” at his position…

  4. plyka

    From the Monday practice tape I can see why kapernick has seen his draft stock rise. All the throws that locker was not making, kapernick was making. At 6’5″ he has locker type athleticism, his arm is plenty strong, and again he showed decent accuracy. Should his draft status move this far up due to the senior bowl? Well, what if folks were underestimate him before due to the conference he played in? I just don’t see how locker is a top 15 talent but kapernick is not a 2nd round talent. I was pretty impressed with kapernick, and his release is not as bad as tebows was.. kapernick is raw, but this just means his ceiling is extremely high. He played in the pistol at Nevada, with some NFL coaching and development who knows what will happen.

    • Charlie

      The who knows part… thats why he shouldn’t be a 2nd round pick. “Who knows” goes both ways, 2nd round picks are worth quite a bit, even third rounders, you can’t really take a leap of faith until atleast the 4th round, and even that can be too early. best place to start getting high ceiling/project players is 5th round and later

    • Rob

      I have no confidence either will become starting NFL quarterbacks and I expect the Seahawks will feel that way too.

      • Matt

        Agreed. The ceiling for Ponder and Dalton would be a low level starter in the NFL. Personally, I think Danny O’neill is an idiot (not to be completely rude, I feel that towards most Seattle sports writers outside of Rob…of course). Seahawks fans, especially media members truly do have this Matt Hasselbeck safety blanket on where they don’t dare mention a name that would threaten his job…and a 1st round QB would.

        If we think settling on Dalton or Ponder is ideal, then we should prepare ourselves to embrace mediocre to poor football for the forseeable future. Ponder and Dalton were on talent rich teams (compared to their competition on a weekly basis) and still underwhelmed. I have seen nothing from Dalton, including the Senior Bowl, that makes me think he could do anything in the NFL. At least Kaepernick has tools to work with whereas the other 2 have little to offer in the terms of upside or projection.

        • Charlie

          completely agree, just thought id share since i saw that. Btw Steve Kelly probably takes the cake for worst seattle sports writer ever. Cant stand the guy, always flip flopping on what he “thinks”

  5. 1sthill

    I admire that you are sticking to your evaluation of Von Miller’s game tape and not being swayed by the love he is getting at the Senior Bowl. But, I don’t have the same concerns you do about him being able to transition to the NFL. I was skeptical of Von Miller in the 2009 season because he was only 220 lbs and he looked tiny when going against Russell Okung. But, now he is up to 238 lbs and he still has an elite burst. I have watched him twice this past season and noted that he did not have an array of pass rush moves or even a secondary move. But, pass rush moves can be taught, speed/quickness can’t. I can’t really speak to how he is against the run because the games I watched the offense usually ran at Von Miller’s teammate OLB Sean Porter (6-2 213 lbs.). Miller would be a small OLB in a 3-4 defense, but his quickness/balance/ and ability to get low and turn the corner are elite and I for one would be willing to give up a little in run support for more of a pass rush. At 238 lbs I don’t know that Miller is undersized as a LB in a 4-3 defense; he is the same size as Leroy Hill, Jon Beason, & Lance Briggs just to name a few of the more familiar LB’s. Yes he will be a project as an OLB in a 4-3, but a good coaching staff will probably ask him to do what he does best and that’s rush the passer (similar to what we did with Leroy Hill his rookie year). While I don’t think he should be taken in the top-5 in the draft, I think a 3-4 team should select him somewhere in the 1st round.

  6. CReid

    I think Von Miller is helped by Clay Matthews’ success. They fit a similar size/speed profile (coming out of college) and seem to have the burst that is the difference between a QB pressure or hit and a sack. Both can be washed out of a play when a lineman gets into them and both are subpar in coverage. But what they do, they do very well and happens to be very important.

    • Rob

      That’s a very valid point Colin.

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