Blair Miller > COMING SOON TO A SUNDAY NEAR YOU
Throughout the college season TFQ will look past the Heisman hopefuls and surefire NFL players to examine a lesser-known prospect who could later rise through the ranks and make an impact in the pros.
Braxton Miller, Sophomore QB, Ohio State
Who knew an embattled football program could find its savior within a year?
It started with tattoos and cash that Ohio State players exchanged for jerseys and other team memorabilia and exploded into the resignation of then-head coach Jim Tressel (for knowing about the infractions and doing next to nothing about them). The result: The Buckeyes were hit with scholarship limitations, one year’s NCAA probation and a one-year ban from postseason bowl games.
But the light at the end of the tunnel showed itself fairly early, when uber-successful head coach and Ohio native Urban Meyer (he of two BCS championships at Florida) signed on with OSU for six years. Just as he had done before at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, Meyer has already turned Ohio State into a force to be reckoned with – no bowl eligibility be damned – thanks to a 7-0 start to the 2012 season, and he’s done so by riding the superlative talents of his starting quarterback, fellow Ohioan Braxton Miller.
The Dark Age the Buckeyes football program cast itself into is one of the only reasons that Miller is still going under the radar where casual college football fans are concerned – it certainly isn’t his play.
Miller led Wayne High to the Div. I state title game two years ago on the strength of 2,167 yards and 17 TDs through the air, and 658 yards and another 17 TDs on the ground. The Ohio Mr. Football finalist and first-team all-state pivot came to Ohio State and showed immediate promise in his freshman season, but after a year of experience and an offseason under the tutelage of Meyer – a mastermind of the spread offense who elevated Niners QB Alex Smith to the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft – Miller is flourishing this season, as the numbers indicate:
Year Comp-att % Yards TD/INT Rating Rush TD
2011 85-157 54.1 1159 13/4 94.9 715 7
2012 96-159 60.4 1271 11/4 98.3 912 9
Not bad at all for a young QB running an offense under adverse conditions – and with his third coach in as many years.
What should NFL scouts make of Miller? It’s a bit early to tell, but let’s consider the hypotheticals. At 6’2”, 210 lbs. his size might not wow them. His body type is similar to Michael Vick (6’0”, 215) or Robert Griffin III (6”2”, 217), but if you’re waiting for another Cam Newton (6’5”, 245), don’t hold your breath. However, his height is more than…passable. His arm looks really good this season, but the spread offense tends to minimize the need to make certain throws that occur more often in the pros. Then again, maybe half of the NFL will be running the spread option by the time Miller gets there. (It’s not that far-fetched in the most copycat-oriented of the four major North American sports.)
The dual-threat capability is what makes Miller so valuable. According to nfldraftscout.com, his 40-yard time has been as low as 4.46. Even more rare for a QB are his moves with the ball. Michigan’s Denard Robinson might be thought of as the most talented rushing QB in the nation, but he’s more of a cut-and-go guy. A quick look at some of Miller’s scoring runs on youtube show a quarterback with the feet and moves of a receiver or tailback. In other words, what the OSU star may lack in the air, he more than makes up for on the ground. nfldraftscout.com seems to agree – in a QB-heavy BCS league, they’ve rated a mere sophomore 8th out of 114 quarterback prospects.
He’s also showing signs of a good learner by making better decisions in his sophomore season. For example, he has increased his completion percentage while passing more often in his second year while also cutting down the sacks he’s taking. (In 2011, Miller was sacked 39 times all season, averaging 3.25 per game, whereas this season he’s whittled that down to 12 – a 1.7 average.) There’s a chance he’s making better decisions about when and where to run with the ball as well, since his average per rush has gone up from 4.5 to 7.1. Of course, that could instead be attributed to Miller’s increased speed and/or skill, but that’s hardly a knock on the kid.
There is the obvious concern that Meyer’s skill as a coach has exaggerated Miller’s production. That’s possible, especially given how proficient QBs Smith and Tim Tebow were at passing the ball in prior incarnations of Meyer’s offense. But that caution shouldn’t be exaggerated either. For one, a certain quarterback plummeted in the very same draft in which Smith was taken first because it was believed that Cal head coach Jeff Tedford deserved most of the credit for his success. That QB: Last year’s NFL MVP, Aaron Rodgers. Secondly, Miller’s physical gifts – his arm, agility and speed – are head and shoulders above each of those aforementioned QBs at the same point in their collegiate careers. More importantly, Miller’s skill set fits perfectly into the growing trend of versatile pivots being set by his predecessors, Newton and Griffin III.
Miller’s play has been so impactful at this point in the season that debate is already swirling about including him on the Heisman trophy ballot while he plays on a team restricted by sanctions and banned from bowl play. In fact, there is already talk that Miller’s potential role in the Heisman race could, in effect, be Ohio State’s bowl game.
There’s a good chance that Meyer’s Buckeyes could go undefeated this season. If so, his young QB will have to grit his teeth and watch the playoffs instead of influencing them himself. But if he continues to improve his skills, he won’t be waiting long in the green room of Radio City Hall during whichever NFL draft he chooses to enter.
Miller will almost certainly play at least another season at OSU, which should give scouts and fans a better sense of his talents and how he will fit into the pros – but by then, barring some sort of setback, he’ll be on everyone’s radar.
Lest anyone doubt, consider what Meyer said about his quarterback on The Dan Patrick Show last week:
“He’s ridiculous. He does things that I’ve never seen athletes do. I’ve had two [players like that]: Percy Harvin and Braxton Miller”