Impressive Senior Bowl week aside, great challenges lie ahead for Braxton Miller
Even if you tried, you probably couldn’t avoid hearing Braxton Miller this week.
The questions surrounding Miller’s transition to receiver seemed to be answered with his dazzling week of practice. He humiliated defensive backs in one-on-ones, he showed off his lethal breakaway speed and he talked about the 4.28-second 40-yard dash he hopes to run in Indianapolis. NFL beat reporters wrote about why his workouts showed that he should be climbing up draft boards.
Comments like these became cliché in a hurry:
When it comes to athletes at North practice, it's Braxton Miller and then everyone else. He's clearly a step above #SeniorBowl
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) January 26, 2016
It was no surprise when Miller was named the “top practice player of the week” by NFL scouts. He did more than live up to the hype surrounding his Senior Bowl appearance.
Then the game happened.
Miller was held to two catches for eight yards and a 5-yard rush. He showed his burst on a kick return that went 31 yards, but that proved to be his highlight of the day.
An end-of-season, all-star game in which it’s illegal to have players in motion is not a fair barometer for a player like Miller. And playing with a new quarterback, it’s understandable that Miller wasn’t perfectly in sync on routes throughout the afternoon.
But this week did show that there are still major hurdles for Miller to overcome in order to develop into a key player in the NFL. Actually, they’re the same hurdles that Miller worked to overcome at Ohio State this year, and they’re the same ones he tried to overcome on Saturday.
Miller claimed that he was underutilized at Ohio State this year. That’s an easy assumption to make when a player with his pedigree and skill set only had 26 catches for 341 yards. Even Urban Meyer would admit that he might not have done enough to get Miller involved.
Still, it’s more complicated than that.
It wasn’t like Miller was getting five yards of separation every time he stepped on to the field. If he was, you can believe the Buckeyes would’ve done whatever they could to get him the ball.
Just because a receiver is the fastest player on the field doesn’t mean he’s an overnight deep-ball threat. If that were the case, NFL teams would give eight-figure contracts to the USA track and field team and line them up. Separation is about more than speed, and it’s about more than making three or four moves at the line of scrimmage.
Even during Miller’s impressive week of practice, that became a topic of conversation.
“While (Miller) did play well, the NFL personnel that I talked to talked more about where he needed to go and less about what he looked like there,” said Fox Sports college football analyst Joel Klatt, who was at practices all week. “Again, his routes took too long, there was way too much shake and shimmy, he didn’t catch the ball cleanly…these are all workable things, there’s no doubt. They loved the electricity he had in his movement, but he’s a project.
“In the media circles, he was getting lots of love. In the NFL circles, not quite as much as what you were seeing on Twitter from the people that were down there covering the event.”
Klatt also brought up the physical transformation of Miller. Down 20 pounds from his weight as a quarterback, Klatt said that his body looks like Julian Edelman’s. It’s an interesting physical comparison considering Edelman was a converted quarterback who developed into arguably the top slot receiver in the NFL.
But that happened because Edelman turned into an elite route runner. There’s nobody that can find the holes in the middle of a defense like he can. Like every great slot receiver, Edelman learned how to catch with contact. And on top of all of that, he had Tom Brady throwing to him.
Can Miller follow that path? Sure, but X, Y and Z would have to happen.
Freakish athleticism is the ideal foundation for NFL receivers. That’s what helped 5-8 Tavon Austin get selected eighth overall in the 2013 draft. His draft stock sky-rocketed when he ran a 4.34-40 at the combine. And that was after he caught 288 career passes and was a two-time All-American at West Virginia.
So why hasn’t he tore up the NFL yet? Well, he’s still an inconsistent route-runner.
That — more than any practice or combine — is going to determine Miller’s NFL longevity as a receiver.
It won’t be a surprise to anyone when Miller makes scouts drool in Indianapolis, or at his pro day or even at his pre-draft interviews. The guy is rightfully confident in his abilities. It’s partially why he was open to such a position switch at this point of his career.
Some might assume that combination will make him an NFL star. In time, it could.
But before he can wow people on Sundays, Miller has a few more things to add to his repertoire.