Integrating layers of information is vital to good player evaluation. An example of studying Braxton Miller reveals why.
There are very few skill players I haven’t seen before I got to Mobile, but my first look at Braxton Miller came at the Senior Bowl last week. Waiting on Miller was by design.
The former Buckeye quarterback has only played wide receiver for a season. In these cases, I’d rather watch where he is now and work backwards. An all-star game environment provides a basic framework for seeing things that Ohio State didn’t demand of Miller.
Not that this was a vital strategy–if you watch enough of a player, you’ll eventually learn what the field can teach you–but it underscores that evaluation is about taking layers of information and integrating them into an analysis that also helps you project what that player isn’t doing right now.
You can say Corey Coleman fared well against press coverage against West Virginia and not so well against Oklahoma State, but if you don’t have a good reason why then how does that help you project his future against NFL press coverage? You need multiple layers of viewing experiences for a player–not as many as some claim–but enough to know how a scheme or opposition limits what you’re going to see from him.
Last night, I posted a RSP Boiler Room video breakdown of a deep route where Miller could not reach the pass. My analysis concludes that Miller wasted steps on the route because he didn’t attack his stem with the right kind of aggression and he initially tracked the ball over the wrong shoulder. These two displays of inexperience cost the new receiver a chance to make a viable play on the target.
Later in my film study, I encountered a similar route from the Virginia Tech game above, which is also from slot right. Despite facing coverage inside, Miller chooses to track the ball over his inside shoulder. The result is impressive, but the process isn’t one you can count on for a receiver to replicate consistently.
Miller’s choice of shoulder to track the ball opens his catching technique to the coverage, which is unnecessary. The choice of shoulder also forces a tougher adjustment and Miller nearly drops this ball.
The decision stems from Miller’s lack of experience. He’s still learning to integrate what he sees on the field with what he’s supposed to do and there are several layers of information he must process:
The position of the coverage to the inside. The fact that his quarterback is also delivering the ball based on the location of the coverage. How much separation Miller earns after his stem. The actual trajectory of the ball versus his expected location of the ball. And if any defender is peeling off his primary coverage into the area that may contest Miller’s effort.
Miller’s efforts to execute with these factors as drivers while doing it at the highest level of college football for the first time ever is admirable, but he’s a novice at the craft of route running and it shows.
If Miller tracks the ball over his outside shoulder, his turn to the ball wouldn’t be as difficult, he places his back between the defender and catching process, and Miller likely catches the ball in stride. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to see Miller have easier catches where he can use his legs in the open field afterwards.
Because Miller tracks the ball to the incorrect shoulder, he’s also forced into making the catch with a passive hand position. Now he’s waiting on the ball rather than attacking it.
I’ve seen Miller attack the ball in practice. I’ve seen him win the ball and take a hit. But if my only perspective prior to practices was the Ohio State tape, I might have concluded that Miller was by nature a passive catcher of the football.
I might have assigned him an issue that he lacks. His overall grade on my board might suffer. Where I think he’d be best matched with a scheme might change.
The eye in the sky may not lie, but it only sees what a player and team shows it. Miller and the Buckeyes didn’t always show the tape that he could attack the ball with ideal technique. Practice did, because Miller encountered more route variations at the Senior Bowl than he did on the field as a slot receiver and part-time runner/quarterback this year in Columbus.
Because I saw Miller first at the Senior Bowl practices, I could view the Virginia Tech and Rutgers games with added perspective. Miller’s hands and technique for using them are fine. His pass-catching suffers because he’s not recognizing what to do so he’s in the best position to maximize those techniques.
This thought process is an example of integrating the data/information one collects on a player. A scout who integrates the correct information into cogent, meaningful analysis tells his team that Braxton Miller will unlock some NFL starter abilities as a ball catcher and runner in the open field once he learns how to get open and maximize his position to catch the ball with good technique that he already possess.
Less integrated analysis leads to a team thinking that Miller has issues with his hands and that’s a more fundamental problem than issues with routes.
As well as Ted Ginn has performed for the Panthers this year, he still drops too many passes and a lot of his success is attributable to Cam Newton not shying away and the Panthers defense giving the offense enough opportunities to recover from dropped balls. Compare Ginn to other starters in the NFL and he’ll be near the bottom of the list and he’s still considered an over-valued draft pick. Fortunately, any player carving out a respectable NFL career is an accomplishment and if you’re not blind to that important dose of perspective, you can appreciate that fact.
Miller does not want to be comped to Ginn in terms of hands, because it will lower his draft value. Not all teams integrate analysis well with every player. Wide receiver already has the greatest variation of draft grades every year, there are likely some teams that will have a much lower grade on the Ohio State receiver than others. Most of it will likely be due to need and scheme fit, but there will be some teams that didn’t integrate their analysis well enough.
If Miller develops, some of those teams will be wondering why they passed on him and if the first thought is we saw problems with him as a pass catcher, they will be wrong.
For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2016 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – early-bird purchase for April 1 download available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2015 RSPs at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.