As we continue to prepare for the NFL Draft and for the #9 pick, I have been locked on to all of the Senior Bowl week coverage from Mobile that is now available on our televisions in 2011. Isn't technology wonderful? The idea that we can now view Senior Bowl workouts each day and hear the NFL executives discuss various players is something that surely did not exist a decade ago. Now, we can get a feel for the draft in January on some level.
By all accounts, the highest-rated player in the 2011 Draft who is in Mobile appears to be Texas A&M OLB Von Miller. Miller is one of a handful of 1st Round Picks present for the Senior Bowl and also the one who is causing the most salivating.
The reason he is off the charts with upside is his quickness and his ability to rush and sack the QB at the very top level. This, as we know is invaluable to the 3-4 defense. The entire scheme is based on 2 players. The Outside Linebackers who play a "joker" position where they can rush or they can drop into coverage. And since there are 5 players lined up across the front, the offense has to figure out which OLB is dropping and which one is headed for the outside edge of your tackle on his way to the QB.
His dip and turn on the edge of tackles is not questioned. He also seems to be able to counter his edge rush with an inside move, and in the Nebraska game in November, you even saw him placed inside on a few occasions to charge through the "A" or "B" gap on a blitz normally reserved for an Inside LB.
He weighed in at 237 on Monday and this is where we start to discuss the realities of making Von Miller a top pick in the 2011 Draft. Some of you have even suggested the Cowboys grab him at #9. Others see Houston and Wade Phillips adding him at #11. Just about everyone sees him gone before we get to the 2nd half of Round 1.
I think Miller will be a fine pro, so I don't want you getting me wrong. However, when we start to talk about the money that goes with Top 10 picks (or at least used to before the new CBA) we have to start to make sure that there are no flaws in his game to speak of. Remember Oklahoma Safety Roy Williams? He is a perfect example of what happens if you pick a player based on his highlight film. All players in the draft have remarkable highlight films - but what are the potential risks that should have scared the Cowboys from Williams? Let us leave no stone unturned.
So, because of the proximity to Von Miller, we all are familiar with his upside. His sacks are remarkable, and his leadership on that Aggie defense is unquestioned. He handled the scheme change like a pro, and returned for a Senior year earning tons of respect from many in the game.
I closely watched him play 3 games this week (Nebraska, Oklahoma, and LSU) to try to get a feel for why I have concerns about his game at the NFL level. It helps that during this past month, we have seen Pittsburgh, New York, and Green Bay all run the 3-4 to a very high level and it gives us some points to look for in a LB.
Here are my 3 concerns about Miller at the NFL level:
1) - Is he a 3-down LB? This is far and away the biggest issue. Can he play for all 3 downs? There is no question that he is a 3rd Down pass rush specialist. On sure passing downs, you put Miller on the edge and enjoy the fruits of his devastating ability to get to the QB and then bring him down. My issue is against the run. When watching the top OLB's in 3-4 defenses in the NFL (DeMarcus Ware, James Harrison, Lamarr Woodley, Clay Matthews) they all have the ability to get to the QB with the very best in the sport. But, what truly makes them special is that you also have a very difficult time running at them or away from them. In the case of Harrison, he catches so many runs away from his side from behind because he refuses to be blocked. In Miller's case, Nebraska and LSU would run block to his side with a TE, and I just did not see Miller able to shed blocks and get in on the stop very much. At 237, the first question is going to be can he stand up to the run. For all of Anthony Spencer's faults, you cannot run a running play at him very much with any success. He defeats at the point of attack and either frees up space for his mates or makes the play himself. Miller seems to need a lot of work and about 15 pounds to make a difference here. In the NFL, they will run right at you until your coach takes you off the field if they think that is how to slow down your pass rush.
2) - Does the motor always run? Again, this showed up in the games I watched this week. Scouts and coaches often say that they don't expect anyone to make every play, but they want to see you in the frame when the whistle blows. For the Aggies, #37-Hodges and #77-Patterson both play close to Miller on the defense and they seem to be in the screen or making the play constantly. Why do we seldom see #40 on the screen as the tackle is made? Is it the way he is being coached? Possibly. Hodges is playing ILB and obviously the scheme calls for him to make the tackles (think Bradie James), but I need to know why Miller seems to be jogging a lot as opposed to running to get involved in the play. His playing weight is not far from Clay Matthews, but Matthews may have the craziest motor in football, catching plays from behind constantly all over the field. That is how undersized LBs can stay in the league at a top level. Now, I concede that they may be telling Miller to play more conservatively and protect the backside on plays in the other direction, but if he is not being told to do that, then I need to know why he is not flying around the field with all of his athletic ability and skills.
3) - Why is he on the sideline so much? When watching a NFL game, it is clear that the great 3-4 OLBs never leave the field. If there are 72 snaps, they are playing 72 (or, at least 70). In the games I watched, I was confused as to why Miller seems to be on the sideline for about 10-15 snaps a game. Was he dinged up? Was he tired? Or did Mike Sherman and his staff think that 94-Moore gave them a better option in run situations? DaMontre Moore was a freshman this season, so I have a hard time accepting that he is better equipped in any situation than Miller (although Moore looks like a monster, too). Again, this is a nitpick, but these are the questions that arrive in your head when you watch him closely and decide if you would spend a high 1st on him.
I like him. I don't love him at the NFL level. I think I would have to add 10-15 pounds of muscle to his frame and hope that he can grow into the position. That can happen, but this idea that he makes more sense than Spencer for Dallas is crazy talk, in my opinion. Spencer can be upgraded upon, but not by a 237 pound edge rusher. Clay Matthews weighs 255 today, but 240 at the Senior Bowl in 2009 - but Green Bay has such a large defensive front that it seems to work for them. Could an undersized Dallas front deal with an undersized OLB, too? I have serious doubts.
I suspect that during the spring, teams will look closely at these questions about how he projects. I have no doubt that someone takes him high, because there is nothing more important than sacks for a defensive front 7 player. But, the flaws are a bit disconcerting for me, and I would be nervous about my team grabbing him too early.