Ohio State QB Braxton Miller was not among the six finalists for this year's Heisman Trophy, but he was third on my ballot.
Now, that doesn't mean I think he should go ahead and declare for the 2014 NFL Draft. In fact, I think it's clear that Miller would be best served by returning for his senior season. If he makes the same kind of leap I saw him make from his sophomore season to his junior year, he'll fully have the attention of NFL evaluators and could be positioned as one of the better QB prospects in 2015. Based on the work ethic he has already shown, I have no doubt he's willing to put in the time it will take for him to make that next leap as a college quarterback.
Miller got better and better as this season went on when he could have gone in the tank after suffering a knee injury in the second game of the season. Backup Kenny Guiton was playing so well in Miller's absence that there was talk that maybe Guiton was the better quarterback. It never deterred Miller, though. He came back after missing two games and almost all of another facing a lot of pressure -- what if he had played poorly when he came back? Everyone would have been calling for Guiton. Miller came back and played so well that the Guiton talk just ended.
He put up huge numbers down the stretch for Ohio State this season and has 1,860 passing yards, 22 passing touchdowns and five interceptions to go along with 1,033 rushing yards and 10 rushing TDs heading into the Orange Bowl matchup with Clemson.
This offseason, Miller has to continue expanding his understanding of the passing game. He made huge strides in that area this season, but the biggest thing for him to focus on will be improving his accuracy as a passer. He has to be able to make those stick throws into tight windows to keep drives alive, which I thought he improved at this year (63.2 completion percentage). For him to be a successful pro, he has to take another big leap next year. Right now, his running can get him out of so much trouble that he probably trusts his legs more than his arm.
Now, he has to throw it like an NFL QB. He can't just simply settle for being a very good college quarterback who is throwing in a run-heavy offense.
Big Ten trench fighters have NFL future
Some of the impressive performances I was on hand to witness in the Big Ten championship game are still on my mind. There are a few offensive linemen from Ohio State and Michigan State that we are going to hear about a lot as we get closer to the draft, including Ohio State's Jack Mewhort. He's one of best left tackles in the country. He's not going to rank ahead of Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio -- if he enters the draft -- or Michigan's Taylor Lewan, but Mewhort is a great player. Against Illinois last month, he was playing hurt. He left game and the Buckeyes' offense stalled. He returned to the game, and that's when RB Carlos Hyde went off, rushing for 246 yards and four TDs. Mewhort has big-time value. For Michigan State, left guard Blake Treadwell really stood out. He started his career on the defensive line, but became a dominant offensive lineman and never received the credit he deserved. He was named second-team All-Big Ten, which I thought was a mistake. I thought he deserved to be on the first team and was one of best O-lineman in the Big Ten. He's tough and precise in everything he does.
Don't forget this name
Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who was named the Walter Payton Award winner earlier this week as the FCS' best player, is creating a lot of buzz in NFL circles. Don't forget about him in the weeks and months to come -- scouts sure will be keeping an eye on him. He comes from the school that produced Sean Payton and Tony Romo -- Garoppolo just broke their records.