Marcell Dareus, Patrick Peterson and Von Miller are, in my mind, the safest and best players in this draft. Two of them fill positions of need. One of those two does so without us first having to mold him into something he hasn’t really been before. That’s Dareus I’m speaking of. He’s a ready-made beast of a defensive tackle that wouldn’t have to change his stripes. He would fit our scheme, fill a position of immense need, and would likely make immediate impact from day one. Miller, on the other hand, fills two needs but isn’t an exact fit for either. The question is: Do we draft to mold Miller into filling two needs with one pick, or do we just draft Dareus, plug him in and be done with it?
You all know about Dareus and I've certainly been a fan of his from day one. I'm instead going to talk about Von Miller here - what positions he's played, what he might play, how he fits in for us, and then we'll discuss which prospect might best improve our team.
Von Miller, 6’3 – 246lbs. THE FOOTBALL PLAYER:
Texas A&M defensive end Von Miller lead all of college football in 2009 with 17 sacks. As a point of reference, Da’Quan Bowers lead the league last year with 15.5 sacks. If Miller had repeated his sack totals last year he would be the absolute clear-cut number one prospect. Because of that, it’s important to understand why he didn’t. I contend that he would have, in fact, topped Bowers’ production and been on pace to beat his previous year’s production had it not been for a single injury.
Over the last two years, there were just seven games in which Miller didn’t record a sack. Four of those games came consecutively at the start of the 2010 season; He was playing with an ankle injury. during that time The other three sackless games came sporadically throughout the two years, and never two in a row. While playing hurt those four games, Miller managed just four solo tackles combined. Then he averaged four solo tackles per game the rest of the season. Crappy production four games in a row, and never before or since during those years, is no coincidence. The injury was very real.
Von Miller finished out the season with very respectable numbers (68 tackles, 17.5 TFLs and 11 sacks), but he would have lead the league in sacks again had it not been for his injury, IMO. He beat Bowers in tackles even with his ankle injury, and he would have beaten every Dlineman in the draft had he been healthy all season. That’s not even debatable. Well, maybe, but I would win -)
Miller is highly productive and highly consistent. His numbers don’t come in bunches or against inferior talent. And Von is the rare prospect who shows up as elite both on game tape as well as in combine tests. He beat Patrick Peterson’s time in the shuttle, for example, and runs the 40 about as fast as AJ Green.
Miller basically killed all the DE prospects in most every test. Bowers didn’t test, but Robert Quinn, for example, was beaten by Miller in all speed drills and power drills. He was out "benched", out jumped, out ran and the foot quickness in cone drills wasn't even close. When you compare Miller’s speed and quickness to that of other linebackers, only Dontay Moch really sticks out. He timed faster than Von in the 40 but was soundly beaten in the cone and shuttle drills.
Miller has the speed and strength to notch sacks against offensive tackles as a defensive end, yet has the quickness and fluidity to out-linebacker the linebackers.
Von Miller, 6’3 – 246lbs. THE DEFENSIVE END:
Quite honestly, he’s too small to continually go against offensive tackles as a three-down defensive end. Our own Dumervil was only 12 pounds heavier when he was drafted at 258 pounds, but that was in the 4th round, not second overall (and 12 extra pounds is really quite a lot, btw). The other comparison we often hear is Robert Mathis. This is a fair comparison, IMO. Even though, again, Mathis wasn’t drafted second overall; he fell to the fifth-round due to his size. These guys are roughly the same size , though, and there are some real similarities especially relating to their speed. With the Colts having smaller DEs, however, it’s important to note that they’ve continually ranked between 15th and 32nd against the run - never better than 15th even though teams are generally playing from behind (I checked back to 2002). This is important because Miller as a DE here would mean our DEs are jointly much smaller than Indy's.
So, Von Miller the defensive end? Well, he would basically have the upside of Elvis Dumervil and Robert Mathis – two undersized DEs that are great pass rushers but not well rounded in run-thumping. Miller’s downside, however, is comparable to Vernon Gholston - albeit for different reasons. Taking a high risk, high reward DE in the 4th/5th round is a lot different than taking a risk on an undersized DE at number two overall. With Miller working on the line and achieving his potential here, we would likely have one of the best pass rushing tandems in the league, although our run defense is very likely to suffer a great deal. Injuries would also be a major concern in having such an undersized three-down DE.
Von Miller, 6’3 – 246lbs. THE LINEBACKER:
Mr. Miller’s size fits pretty well as a linebacker in our system. He’s a shade on the larger side, but his speed and quickness would certainly make that a non-issue. Miller played as a regular weakside linebacker his sophomore year at Texas A&M. Meaning, he did normal linebacker stuff that year – things we would ask him to do here, like drop in coverage. He also had a heckuva Senior Bowl recently, where he matched up against TEs and RBs very well. That’s pretty much it, though. That’s the extent of his linebackerie-linebacker experience. Small sample size. Insanely small, considering our consideration of him being the #2 overall pick.
Actually maybe we should step back for a moment. The reason Von Miller would have to do all this linebackerie-linebacker stuff here is because in a 4-3, teams rush the front-four - the four linemen. Always. The front four are always the primary pass rush. A linebacker that rushes in a 4-3 isn’t a "rusher", in fact.He’s the fifth guy coming in, so that’s not a rush; it’s a blitz. Teams don’t blitz every down, not even close. And Coach Fox blitzes less than the next guy. Again, Von wouldn’t be a "rush linebacker". He’d be a regular linebacker doing regular linebacker stuff most downs. He would be our primary blitzer from the linebacker position, but that wouldn’t happen more than like 25% of the time. In contrast, Miller would be the fourth rusher from the linebacker position about 90% of all snaps in a 3-4 defense. That’s because a 3-4 defense rushes three linemen and one linebacker on every down.
So, Von Miller the linebacker? Well, you can’t really compare his upside to sack masters because he wouldn’t be a sack master in a 4-3. You can’t really compare him to somebody like Patrick Willis because Willis was an absolute tackling machine and excelled in coverage also. With Miller, we simply don’t know. Miller measures really well at the linebacker position. He looks to have great instincts, but there’s not enough tape of him in coverage for scouts to really break him down and give a firm opinion. Miller is quick and fast, and has the fluidity to really excel in coverage. He played great against TEs blocking and in covering them at the Senior Bowl, so that combined with his size, is likely enough to believe he would excel as a Sam LB. The problem, though, is that even Patrick Willis lasted until #11. We simply can’t draft a linebacker at #2. Not if we’re drafting him to do what he’s done very little of before, like dropping in coverage and defending the run from off the line.
Von Miller, 6’3 – 246lbs. THE HYBRID:
There’s simply no denying that Von Miller is worth more to a 3-4 team than he is to a team that runs a 4-3. Generally speaking, that is. Our situation is a little different, however. In our specific case, we only have one proven pass rusher and need at least one more. We only have one surefire starter at linebacker and need at least one more. Von Miller could fill both of those roles with a single draft pick. Perhaps that increases his value for us, right? Miller could start at linebacker then move to Ayers’ DE position on passing downs - moving Ayers inside for those downs. Obviously not all passes are "obvious", though, so Miller would still drop in coverage sometimes and would eventually excel in that aspect, too. We would also need a coverage linebacker to fill in for Miller when he moves to DE on passing downs - but that’s not at all a high resource, and it’s nothing to worry about.
Von Miller is a safe choice. He’s already an elite, proven and seasoned pass rusher. He would be immediately effective in that role from the LDE position. But it’s unlikely he would hold up in run support as an every down DE. Also, with Miller at one end and Doom on the opposite end, our run defense would be really light and ill-equipped to ever be really good.
With Von and Doom as the pass rushing bookends, and with Ayers disrupting the middle, I think we would have a really great pass rush immediately. Perhaps more importantly, Miller would provide some insurance in our pass rush that we didn’t have when Dumervil was injured last year. I also think Von Miller the linebacker will eventually be great in coverage and in defending the run. And he immediately adds the speed component to our team. He’s pretty raw still, but he has the things you can’t teach, like instincts and speed. He’s a football player. And I like that. He also delivers a wallop and even leaves his feet to punish runners at times. And I like that, too.
I see an opportunity to mold Von Miller into filling two very needy positions for us. By drafting him, we wouldn’t need to add another DE and it would be one less starting LB we would need. Two birds, one stone. That versatility and value nudges him past Marcell Dareus in my newly made up mind. But make no mistake, drafting Miller isn’t the easy choice. It means we’d have to mold him and build around him. And Dareus is still the logical choice. Nonetheless, I’ve now moved on to Von Miller from Marcell Dareus - representing my first change at the top, and the first time I’ve advocated any pick at #2 other than Marcell. I don't know if Fox will see this guy like I do, but I want him Miller on my team. I think he would improve the team more than any other player. And that, my friends, is always the goal. Let me know your thoughts...
Von Miller, 6’3 – 246lbs. THE TEAMMATE:
"First and foremost, I’m going to be a great teammate. I’m a team guy. That’s how I play football. That’s how we were able to win the games that we won at Texas A&M. We didn’t have all the talent in the world, but we had a great team. We had great chemistry in the locker room. I’ll be a rookie, whatever those guys want me to do, I’ll be happy to do it. Just find my way, find my role. Whatever it takes to get on the field, that’s what I’ll do." ~Von Miller.