CFB 24/7  

 

Braxton Miller heads Spandex All-Star Team at 2016 combine

Print

INDIANAPOLIS -- What is Braxton Miller?

It's a lingering question this week, to be sure. And a couple years ago, after he blew out his throwing shoulder in the 2014 Orange Bowl, it was a question Miller himself couldn't quite answer.

"I never asked, but I think if you went to him before the Orange Bowl and tried to find out -- Does he see himself as an NFL quarterback? -- he might've said no," said Mickey Marotti, Ohio State's assistant AD for football sports performance. "I didn't know what that answer was. So after the injury, I asked him. And he said, 'No, I see myself as an NFL athlete.' "

Not as a quarterback. Or a tailback. Or a receiver.

NFL Scouting Combine

Dates: Feb. 23-29
TV: NFL Network and NFL Combine Live


Combine coverage:

Photos:

As an athlete.

That, it seems, is right where we remain with the player who finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting in consecutive seasons and won back-to-back Big Ten Player of the Year awards as a quarterback, missed the entire 2014 season as his Buckeyes captured the national title, and came back in 2015 as a spread-offense Inspector Gadget.

Miller hits Central Indiana -- 187 miles due west of Columbus, Ohio -- surrounded by buzz. He's as enticing and enigmatic a physical specimen as any that will be on display at the annual meat market that is the NFL Scouting Combine.

As always, the interviews and physicals are the most important things to the deep traveling parties of the 32 NFL franchises in attendance. But people tune into this stuff for freakish athleticism, and if you want a list of guys ready to star on that platform, this 6-foot-1, 204-pound stick of football dynamite is a good one to start with. That much, to those who know him best, is certain.

Here's just some of how they describe what we'll all be getting a good look at:

» "So long as he wasn't hurt, he's never stepped foot on a field where he wasn't the best athlete or the fastest guy out there," said Buckeye receivers coach Zach Smith, who coached with Urban Meyer at Florida and has been with him at Ohio State since 2012. "I'm telling you, he's been the best athlete and the fastest player every time he's walked onto a field."

» "I had no idea a 6-foot-1, 215-pound guy could move like that," explained Houston coach Tom Herman, Miller's offensive coordinator at Ohio State from 2012 through '14. "He was the fastest player on the team, had the quickest first step, the best change of direction. It was video-game stuff."

» "I think, if he's healthy and feels great, he's gonna knock it out of the park," Marotti said, of what he expects from Miller in Indy. "I've timed him sub-4.4 [in the 40-yard dash]. You just don't know on that stage, but I'd say high 4.3s, right at 4.4 or low 4.4s. Or even faster."

Miller, in so many ways, is what the "Underwear Olympics" element of the combine is all about. And everyone expects him to announce himself emphatically as an athlete.

The rest is murkier.

His old coaches can't clear all that up for you, or the scouts. But they will point to two elements that came into play after Miller's ability to throw was taken from him in Miami on that January night two years ago.

First, there's the way he handled it.

Marotti reminded the players at one point last year that, without Miller leading the Buckeyes to a 12-0 season in 2012, the 2013 recruiting class (five of them could be first-round picks this April) might not have come together like it did, and that it did was a huge part of the 2014 title. And everyone in the room knew that, for Miller, being denied the payoff during what was supposed to be his senior year couldn't have been easy.

"This is just my opinion, not me speaking for him, but I'd imagine that was excruciating," Herman said. "And he handled it with such class and dignity, and an unbelievable sense of team. We all knew, deep down, there's no way the program would be where the program was at without him."

Second, there was how he conducted his 2015 transformation -- with that same sense of team.

After his second surgery, in August 2014, Miller approached Marotti and asked, What do you think of me playing another position? Marotti asked if Miller was serious. Miller said he was. Then Marotti asked Miller if he knew Randall Cobb's story. Miller didn't. So Marotti told him how Cobb arrived at Kentucky as a quarterback and left as a premier slot-receiver prospect, and thought Miller could pull the same sort of metamorphosis.

The following spring, one of Miller's best friends, rising junior receiver Michael Thomas, gave Smith a heads-up that Miller was thinking about it as he rehabbed, but wanted to keep it quiet. Smith advised Miller to go to Meyer. Meyer called Smith into the meeting, and Miller resolved to get to work. He, Thomas and Cardale Jones would conduct evening workouts -- sneaking in and out of the indoor facility during the quietest time of the year (June and July) -- to make sure no one caught wind of their sessions.

All of which is to say, for almost a year, Miller was able to keep it under wraps, something he wanted to do in order to avoid it being a distraction to the Bucks' bid to repeat. That larger point wasn't lost on anyone: It was strictly about finding a way to make himself, and in turn the team, better.

"There's phases to that -- he had to get the fundamentals down first," Smith said. "Quarterbacks and running backs, they work on a horizontal plane. Receivers, everything's on a vertical plane, you're doing everything with a different body lean. The way your body operates is very different. It was a huge transformation through the summer, then he had to do it in pads, then with a live defense, then with linemen. He had to learn stock blocking. And with two-a-days, we were almost there, with all the firsts."

Learning for the first time to play without the ball all the time, Miller reminded everyone what he could do when he did have it in the opener at Virginia Tech. But, as Smith recalls, "About Week 4 or Week 5, he was my best blocker. That's when I said, 'He can do anything he wants to do.' "

Athletically, to be sure, there's very little holding him back. Which we'll all see here over the next few days.

"He not only had the fastest 40, but the fastest 10-yard get-off, and he was top three in the 5-10-5 shuttle," Herman said. "[Former Buckeye and current New York Jets receiver] Devin Smith is fast, but he's not near the change-of-direction or first-step suddenness that this guy has. And to see it at 6-1, 215, where he's all ass and legs? It's pretty unique, man. Pretty unique."

The rest, of course, won't be easy.

There are plenty of reasons to doubt him. But those in Columbus -- Meyer repeatedly compared Miller's athletic package to Percy Harvin's -- think there are more reasons to believe.

"You draft him, you're gonna get the most dynamic player in the draft, who will become one of the premier wideouts at that level," Smith said. "He has the physical tools, he's already developed a great amount, and he has the mindset to be the best to ever do it."

Presumably, the stuff that happens this week won't dissuade anyone from thinking that way. But Miller's just one of a host of guys who should be in the running for the mythical Chris Johnson "King of the Combine" honors.

After talking to numerous general managers, personnel chiefs, college scouting directors and area scouts over the last week, here are the guys joining Miller on the starting 22 of my inaugural Spandex All-Star Team (listed in alphabetical order):

Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State: The word "genetics" will be thrown around a lot in Indy. Bosa's dad, John, was the Dolphins' first-round pick in 1987. His mom's brother, Eric Kumerow, was the Dolphins' first-round pick in 1988. Fair to say, he was pretty much born to be drafted.

Ben Braunecker, TE, Harvard: Before this year, there'd been just three Crimson players ever invited to Indy. Braunecker is one of two this year -- along with offensive tackle Cole Toner-- and coach Tim Murphy called him the most athletic tight end the program has ever had. He's not the only one excited to see how his star tests.

Artie Burns, CB, Miami (Fla.): Always good to bet on the track athlete in this setting. And Burns is more than just a track athlete, having been an All-American hurdler in his time as a Hurricane.

Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech: Despite his 23.5 tackles for losses the last two years, Butler's always been considered a raw height/weight/speed guy -- which makes him perfect for the combine. He checked in at 6-foot-4 and 325 pounds at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, and he can move that frame.

Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia: Floyd's name was one of the most commonly raised among scouts, and for good reason -- at a lean (listed) 6-foot-4 and 231 pounds, there are few combine drills or tests that this athlete shouldn't excel in. The bigger question will be whether he can keep on weight through a season.

Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame: Fuller's a slighter receiver, like a Ted Ginn Jr. or DeSean Jackson. And like those two, he should be able to make up for that deficiency by flat out burning up the 40.

Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida: Hargreaves' height likely will keep him from being the first corner off the board, with bigger players like Eli Apple and Jalen Ramsey to compete against, but scouts believe he has the rest of the traits you want, and that should show in Indy.

Myles Jack, LB, UCLA: So Jack has said he'll be limited to the bench press, interviews and physicals. But clubs are optimistic about what they'll see, based on word of mouth, even if there's more he can't do than can do at this point of his meniscus rehab.

Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State: Built like a house, athletic for his size and carrying a howitzer for an arm, Jones should show the football world the physical tools -- particularly throwing on Saturday -- that had so many intrigued by his potential two Januarys ago.

Deion Jones, LB, LSU: The idea of taking an undersized, one-year starter will scare some teams off, but Jones was a Butkus Award finalist in that single season, and he's expected to run like a defensive back in Indy.

Miles Killebrew, S, Southern Utah: The success of hybrid safety/linebacker types like Shaq Thompson, Mark Barron and Deone Bucannon paves the way for Killebrew, who checks in at around 230 pounds and has times in the 4.4s on campus in the books.

Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State: Meyer referred to Lee as pencil-necked when he was an afterthought in the Buckeyes' ballyhooed 2013 recruiting class. Suffice it to say, he grew quickly from prep quarterback and potential receiver prospect into super-athletic, playmaking college linebacker.

Robert Nkemdiche, DT Ole Miss: This is where we warn that scouts aren't wild about Nkemdiche -- and it goes well beyond the questions about his character. There's also a feeling that he's still far more athlete than football player. That said, he's one hell of an athlete. And that should be apparent at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State: One area scout referred to Ogbah as a "genetic freak." Big. Fast. Scary looking. Everything you want in the first guy off the bus at the high school game. His production hasn't matched his physical ability -- and he's a bit stiff -- but there'll be plenty to like during testing.

C.J. Prosise, RB, Notre Dame: The early entrant was listed as an "athlete" coming out of high school, and bounced around different positions in South Bend, Indiana. Recruited as a safety, he was a slot receiver before switching to tailback (and rushing for 1,032 yards and 11 touchdowns) last season. What hasn't been questioned is that, for a 220-pounder, he can really move.

Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State: Perhaps the most unique prospect in the draft -- he could be the best corner and safety, depending on your perspective. Oh, and he was also an ACC champion as a long jumper and a part of the Seminoles' 4x100 relay. Plus, he tops 6 feet and 200 pounds. You get the picture.

Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU: Drafting Robinson will require a huge leap of faith. Thanks to a host of off-field issues, he hasn't played a full season of football since his true freshman season of 2013. That said, there's a reason why he was playing that early. We should see it from the 6-foot-3 cover man here.

LeShaun Sims, CB, Southern Utah: One personnel exec, when discussing Killebrew and Sims, raised an eyebrow about the times that Southern Utah has been passing along, skeptically calling them "juiced." That said, word was Sims will run the in the 4.3s. We'll see.

Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana: A four-year starter, Spriggs came up more than once as an overlooked prospect who could use the combine to push clubs to take a closer look. At 6-foot-5 and 301 pounds, he might well prove to be as athletic as any offensive lineman in the draft -- outside of Laremy Tunsil.

Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame: Stanley improved in each of his four years in South Bend and isn't considered a finished product. But he should shine in Indy, thanks to his ability to move as a big man.

Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss: Sometimes the best prospect is also the most impressive athlete. This appears to be one of those cases. I asked an area scout assigned to Ole Miss what he thought Tunsil would excel at in Indy. Answer: "All of it."

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop