I have never been a scout or a NFL general manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can. To read more about the 2016 NFL Draft Project, click here.
There is quite a list in the NFL of wide receivers who were once college quarterbacks. The dual threat QB -- especially the one with either size issues, arm strength issues, or both -- has a skill set that makes him a very obvious project at wide receiver. The list of accomplished conversions includes Hines Ward, Julian Edelman, and Antwaan Randel El just to name a few. This year, there are a few others who will attempt to make that jump, with the most gifted version of this conversion being Ohio State's Braxton Miller.
Miller was a wonderful QB at Ohio State from 2011-2013 who engineered wins by the bushel but also dealt with a flurry of injuries that cost him his 2014 season as he healed from a shoulder with a medical redshirt. In the meantime, OSU was continuing to move the conveyor belt of quality QBs and he was forced to face the simple facts that he was unlikely to be a QB in the NFL and was unlikely to be the QB1 for the Buckeyes anymore.
So, he converted to "offensive weapon." Which means he played WR -- or the slot/H-back, but also some RB, some wildcat QB, and all around terror. He was productive, for sure, but only in spurts and for a total of 341 yards receiving and 260 yards rushing -- 601 yards of offense is much more than nothing, but it is also much less than amazing on a powerhouse offense. And that, along with the fact that the guy is learning on the job, is why Braxton Miller is a rather complicated study for this draft.
What I liked:He is as gifted as they come. He has short space quickness that is off the charts and can change directions and spin in traffic and lose you in the blink of an eye. He has athleticism that will convince a team or many to take a chance and bet on his upside that will arrive in a few seasons. He has what every team wants -- juice. He can go deep or beat you on the edges. He appears to have some natural catch skills and can concentrate pretty well on long balls to pull them in when contested. But, if you give him a sliver on the edge, he is gone. He was a real threat as a jet sweep guy and gives a team all sorts of matchup headaches as he can take over at wildcat QB without any warning. Coaches dream of weapons that defy the Xs and Os and who present big matchup issues for just about everyone on the defense who tries to man up, and you can see an upside for Braxton that would suggest he can be that defensive coordinator's headache.
What I did not like:Well, he is really raw. He doesn't look efficient in his route-running and if we are going to cite Edelman and Ward as comparables, we should point out that they both made their living in the slot and that is where Miller looks really undeveloped in his routes and breaks and quick reads and decisions. There are multiple occasions off the snap where he is in the slot and yet he is the last guy to realize the play has started. I am not sure he has the tools to be a guy who works the underneath only because I believe much of those option routes are based on instincts that are built over thousands of reps. Beyond all of that, he will be 24 in November, which is not exactly a great spot to begin a project in professional football. His receiving body of work is quite small and while you don't have to start at square one, you are considerably behind the top receivers in this class in being polished and NFL-ready and we already know the learning curve at this position that traditionally awaits college receivers making the jump. And, he has durability question marks. Those don't usually go away running across the middle on Sundays.
Summary and potential fit with the Cowboys: All of that said about Braxton Miller -- good and bad -- makes him a very interesting study. In five years, questions will be asked. Will it be, "How did we ever think Braxton would be a high NFL pick?" Or will it be: "How did we ever doubt Braxton would be a NFL receiver?" He has what teams want -- a toolbox full of rare tools and a willingness to figure it out. Now, he just has to be developed into what people are sure he can be. And he has a reputation for being a quick study as his QB mind has prepared him for less demanding mental positions.
Let me be the first to say that I see the appeal. On his day or on his snap, he is electric and that is always a good place to start. But, overall, despite his incredible progress in 2015, I would not value him as highly as many of my colleagues appear to at this point. There are many wide receivers in the mix in the top 50, and I think I would feel more comfortable with pretty much everyone of them over the unknown of Miller. If he was a sure thing as a slot, I would feel differently, but at this moment, I am not sure what he does well enough to say he is a sure thing on an NFL field as a rookie. There is a point where I would take him because of the drool-inducing upside, but for the Cowboys, to me that is no sooner than the top of Round 3. Let someone else develop the project.