In the last few weeks leading up to the draft I’ll be posting a series of “final thoughts” on some of the top prospects in this year’s class. Up first: Von Miller
I’ll start off by saying I really like Miller. He’s a solid 1st-round pick and has a ton of potential as a pass rusher. However, I don’t think he is quite worthy of a top-five pick, which is where he is all but certain to go in the draft.
Miller has drawn comparisons to Green Bay’s Clay Matthews, and since this is a copy-cat league everyone wants to get the next great pass rushing 3-4 linebacker.
While Miller and Matthews have some similarities, I’m not buying the comparison. What makes Matthews great is his motor and his ability to fight through junk. He is constantly on the move and offensive linemen never know where he’s going next. In essence he excels because he’s always one step ahead of the offensive line – he keeps them guessing. This is essential to his production because he doesn’t have elite size or strength and as a result, when an offensive linemen does get his hands on him in a good position he is actually pretty easy to block.
Miller lacks the elite change-of-direction quickness that makes Matthews such a great playmaker. Miller’s speed and athleticism is impressive, but I don’t see him making the same types of plays that Matthews does. Miller’s strength is as a pure pass rusher. He pins his ears back and goes full speed ahead.
At times, Miller will blow past offensive tackles and should have no problem averaging seven to 10 sacks per season in the NFL. But that’s just seven to 10 plays out of a few hundered for which he’ll be on the field. What will he do the other 97% of the time?
One of the concerns with Miller’s style of play is that it becomes easy to run at him. He will get caught out of position frequently as he simply over-runs the play.
Another issue with Miller’s game is that he lacks the ability to fight through the junk that Matthews does so consistently. Matthews has a knack for emerging from a mess at the line of scrimmage to make a play. Miller lacks the instincts, ability to read the play and the great foot quickness to have the same type of success in these situations.
Think of it like this, how often do you see Matthews make plays after the offensive play has broken down? He’s a threat throughout the duration of a play. Miller on the other hand is an explosive player who makes his impact plays immediately off the snap. As an offensive linemen if you can get your hands into his body, or even just deliver a good punch to knock him off his path, you’re set. You’ve knocked him out of position and, more often than not, removed him from the play.
I think the comparison to Matthews really stems from the fact that, like Matthews, Miller lines up at various spots on the field throughout the game. This gives off the impression that he’s making plays all over the place, but in reality, it’s simply a result of where he lines up. This has very little to do with Miller himself, and more to do with the creativity of Texas A&M’s coaching staff.
Another concern with Miller, albeit a minor one, is the fact that he hasn’t really been tested against elite competition. Yes, he played in the Big 12 but how many future NFL starters did he face? The Big 12 is a great conference, but when evaluating players I’m more concerned with who he faced at specific positions – in Miller’s case, offensive tackles.
Who was the best offensive tackle Miller faced this year? That’s a tough call. He probably didn’t face anyone who projects as a future 1st-round pick. As I said, it’s a minor concern, but when watching film you have to factor in who he’s matched up against.
Despite having these concerns, I do like Miller. There are flaws in his game but he is an elite athlete and he seems like a smart guy. Give him a few years with a great coaching staff and he could eliminate some of these concerns altogether. I simply feel as though he has a few glaring holes in his game which, at least initially, will make him a liability in certain situations.
All that said, Miller should be an early favorite for defensive rookie of the year. Much like Ndamukong Suh this past season, all anyone really notices are sack totals and big hits – even if that only accounts for 3 to 5 percent of your total plays. Like Suh was in 2010, Miller will be a liability against the run, and also in coverage, but he’ll impress fans with his ability to get to the quarterback and immediately become a star.