Draft Daily: Braxton Miller, the Electrifying Athlete
Between now and the draft, we’ll zero in on one prospect a day with an Eagles slant. We’ve already covered more than a dozen players, including Dak Prescott, Jack Conklin, Kenneth Dixon, Jacoby Brissett and Kolby Listenbee. If you have a player you think should be covered, shoot us an email ([email protected]).
THE BACK STORY
You saw it, even if you didn’t watch the game. It was the spin move heard ’round the world, and Braxton Miller was the one responsible for the viral moment.
His 53-yard touchdown run against Virginia Tech extended Ohio State’s lead from four points to 11 in the season-opener, but it also signaled his play-making ability didn’t diminish just because he changed positions.
“I feel like that changed my life,” Miller wrote on Bleacher Report. “Doing something special like that is the sort of thing you dream about. The spin went viral the same night. My Twitter, Instagram and phone were all blowing up. I had over 200 texts, which took a couple of weeks to go through. It was exciting to get that feeling back of not only playing, but shining after a year off. I want to keep on doing that for years.”
Just three months before that life-changing spin move, Miller transitioned from being a quarterback to becoming a wide receiver. He struggled to fully recover from a throwing-shoulder injury, and Ohio State had two other talented quarterbacks competing for the starting spot.
Miller made his mark as a quarterback as a sophomore, finishing fifth in the 2012 Heisman Trophy voting while being named a finalist for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award. But his sudden position change seemed to go about as smoothly as it reasonably could have, and he’s now projected to be a second or third round pick by many outlets.
Miller told reporters at the NFL Combine that he viewed the injury as a blessing in disguise.
“Absolutely, for sure,” Miller said. “I’m just thankful to play football again. I’m out here doing what I love to do and putting everything in God’s hands. That’s what I’ve been doing, just perfecting my craft. I want to be one of the best.”
Although Miller ran a slower 40-yard-dash than people expected in Indianapolis, his agility and quickness were on full display. Among receivers, he finished first in the 60-yard shuttle, second in the 20-yard shuttle and third in the 3-cone drill.
It’s one thing to move well without pads outside of a game situation, but Miller’s athleticism very clearly translates to success on the field. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein wrote how Miller has “loose hips for jitterbug elusiveness in space and it isn’t easy to get a solid hit on him,” but that also helps him in route running.
ESPN’s Todd McShay explained how in a good video breakdown of Miller.
“Against Virginia Tech in the first game, he shows some savvy,” McShay said. “Now, we got to clean up the get off the line of scrimmage, but how about the separation he creates just because of his loose hips and natural athleticism and then adjusting to the football.”
Fran Duffy also had a good breakdown of Miller on the Eagles’ website, pointing to film from Senior Bowl practices.
“This is going to be a little bit of a stick-nod-go and a really impressive route here from Braxton Miller,” Duffy said. “Showing the quickness, showing the burst to separate on the double move. And what I’m really impressed with here — he understands how to use his body as a shield. He defends [Minnesota cornerback] Eric Murray, keeps him on his backside hip, the quarterback puts it where only he can get it and he dives into the end zone for the touchdown in a contested situation.
“Braxton Miller, the fact that a year ago, this guy was still playing quarterback, is this far along at the wide receiver position — really, really exciting to consider his upside moving forward into the NFL.”
Because of Miller’s late position change, there isn’t a ton of film on him. Despite the small sample size, though, it seems safe to say Miller has good hands. According to ESPN, Miller dropped one ball on 40 targets in 2015. They also explained how he “attacks the ball with his hands and does not let many throws get into his pads,” as he shows in these next two clips.
Scouts also praise his ability to track the ball down field while displaying good focus in traffic. One good example of that is his 45-yard catch against Rutgers, although he initially missed the ball on the first catch attempt.
While Miller isn’t the best blocker, he did show a willingness to get physical, which was something people questioned before the season because he previously played quarterback. While he has a lot of room to grow as a blocker, the positive sign is that his effort is there and he doesn’t shy away from contact.
There are a plethora of reasons to be optimistic about Miller’s future in the NFL, but he’s still a raw receiver you would be drafting on potential over production. ESPN mentioned how Miller “ran a limited route tree at Ohio State and faces a big jump in complexity at the NFL level,” while Zierlein add this:
Reliant upon speed and athletic ability over skill at the position. Needs major route work. Upright into his routes with very little sell from his upper body to create hesitation from defenders. Not yet ready to work the intermediate routes. Used deep and short. Needs to improve his ball security and get ball tucked away in proper arm.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Doug Pederson has expressed a desire to add receivers, and I wouldn’t hesitate to take Miller in the third round. Despite the offseason acquisitions of Rueben Randle and Chris Givens, there’s still a question mark about what the Eagles will get out of their receiving corps this year.
Miller seems like he’ll continue to show significant improvement as he spends more time at receiver, and NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks explained recently why the Eagles are one of the best fits for Miller in the NFL:
I would pay close attention to the New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles, based on their roster needs and utilization of a West Coast offensive scheme. All of those teams covet potent playmakers with dazzling running skills, which is why they place added value on punt returners. Most importantly, these teams appreciate pass catchers capable of transforming short passes into big gains with spectacular runs on the perimeter.