With the memories of this past weekend's Senior Bowl still fresh, Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller became a hotly debated prospect based on his performance in Mobile, Ala. He was showered with praise during the telecast and made multiple plays.
The question remains: Is Miller really as good as he was construed last Saturday? And more importantly: Is he a legitimate option for the Browns at the No. 6 slot in April's draft?
From a logical standpoint, Miller seems to be a blessing straight from heaven for some Cleveland Browns fans. He fits multiple criteria the team is currently lacking, particularly along its defensive front seven. He is a fantastic athlete. He is a major pass rush threat with 27.5 sacks the past two seasons at Texas A&M. And he can fill a void at linebacker, a unit with one potential starter still under contract. Meanwhile, the team seemingly transitions back to a four-man front under the guidance of new defensive coordinator Dick Jauron.
Miller's play Saturday was stellar. One cannot deny his pure athletic ability, particularly what he displayed moving in space. He made multiple tackles using his fantastic lateral quickness and showing a burst toward the football. Tackling Boise State's Titus Young and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick are feats unto itself. Plus, he showed the ability to cover tight ends.
Those plays, as impressive as they are, did not answer the lingering questions still remaining. Those questions have seemingly been forgotten based on one game in which Miller played part time.
Miller's strength at the point of attack is minimal. How many times did he have to take on a lineman or lead fullback in the game, shed said block, and then make a play during the Senior Bowl? He was challenged twice. He did not make the play either time. The first, he was engulfed by former Marshall tight end Lee Smith. As he was being pancaked, the referee was generous to call a holding penalty on Smith. The second instance was a meeting with the North's fullback, Stanford's Owen Marecic, in a developing hole. Marecic won the battle as Miller wrong-armed the block, but the lane was still vast. If not for penetration backside by his teammate, Miller's futile attempt would have loomed much larger.
Miller does have issues defending the run. Watch the tape from his Cotton Bowl performance against LSU. He struggled greatly while taking on much larger blockers. The Bayou Bengals ran the football for 288 yards on 55 carries. Obviously, Miller was not the team's primary issue. He still had four solo tackles, including three for a loss. But upon closer review, his ability to stack and shed against the Tigers much larger offensive linemen was an obvious concern.
His size, or lack thereof, only adds to the problem.
When fans visit Texas A&M's official website, Miller is listed at 6-foot-3 and 243 pounds. In Mobile, during the annual meat market held every Monday of the week's festivities, the Aggies' joker came in half an inch shorter and six pounds lighter. These are not traditional measurements for defensive ends or 3-4 outside linebackers. A saving grace may be the player's 34-inch arms to help ward off offensive linemen.
These two issues are predominant reasons as to why one NFL scout stated Miller's best fit schematically may be as an inside linebacker playing in the 3-4 on first and second down, and then bumping outside to rush the quarterback during obvious passing situations.
For those that believe in positional value, this thought process limits his worth. A similar example already resides in Cleveland with one of the team's previous starting inside linebackers, Chris Gocong. Gocong was a terror rushing the passer in college, albeit at the Division I-AA level. He has yet to display those abilities to its fullest because the team that drafted the Cal-Poly product felt he was best served to play strongside linebacker in a 4-3.
The team and general manager who made said selection? The Philadelphia Eagles helmed by Tom Heckert, courtesy of the team's head coach Andy Reid. Miller is the superior athlete, but it does give a glimpse into the mind of those making the final drafting decision.
And for all the raving about his pass rush ability, Miller has been predominantly a one-trick pony. His speed rush is the best to enter the league in quite some time. He can bend the end while dipping his shoulder dramatically displaying wonderful ankle inflection. But when he commits to the move, more often than not, he does not show much in the way of counters.
Based on a mere handful of one-on-one pass rush drills in practice, he was praised during the time spent in Mobile. It was not mentioned that Mississippi's State's Derek Sherrod — a potential first-rounder in his own right — did get the upper hand on Miller a couple instances as well.
In 2009, Miller finished his junior campaign with 17 quarterback sacks, which led the nation. In 2010, teams began to figure out Miller. He posted only three sacks in the first eight games this season. Two of his 10.5 sacks were directly against legitimate NFL talent (Baylor's Danny Watkins and LSU's Joseph Barksdale), neither of which will be top selections. To his credit, Miller did battle a high ankle injury this season.
Human nature is often a prisoner of the moment, but the dissecting the NFL draft is a 365 day-a-year process. The selection process, as the Browns contemplate what players may or may not be worthy of the sixth overall selection, will weigh all the factors, not merely what happened one week along the southern tip of Alabama.