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How Ohio State's Braxton Miller Can Play His Way into a Top-10 NFL Draft Pick

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How Ohio State's Braxton Miller Can Play His Way into a Top-10 NFL Draft Pick
USA Today

It's rare for a college prospect, especially one who plays quarterback, to be selected in the top 10 of the NFL draft without a balance of four major "P's": physical tools, production, personality and polish.

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller doesn't yet have all of those things, which is why he was wise to return for his senior season in Columbus. He wouldn't have gone in the top 10 of the 2014 NFL draft and likely would have dropped out of the first round altogether. He still has work left to do.

Fortunately, Miller has the one P that's impossible to teach. He has good enough size (6'3'') to compete in the modern NFL, which, combined with his rare speed and ability to make plays on the ground—both inside and outside the pocket—earns Miller a big green check next to physical tools.

Miller also passes the production test, having won 22 of his last 24 starts at Ohio State. He averaged 7.42 yards per play and was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year (for the second consecutive season) in 2013, despite battling injuries during the stat-padding part of the schedule.

Check.

Miller's personality is less of a slam dunk, but it's still a positive on his scouting report. He has the temperament of a leader by example, and he's proven capable of making the big play when his team most desperately needs it:

...On more than one occasion:

Miller further exuded maturity in his decision to return for his senior season, citing a desire to improve as a player and win a Big Ten Championship. In a statement released by the university, Miller also said that graduating and meeting his academic goals played a part in his decision, which is commendable for someone in his position.

Where Miller really needs to prove himself is in the fourth P, the one that plagues many players his age but is certainly the most fixable: polish. There are small, rough patches in his game that need to be flattened out and smoothed.

Miller needs to work on his mechanics—both footwork and throwing motion—and prove himself capable of working more efficiently from the pocket. He must learn to use his legs as a tool instead of a crutch and improve his ball placement.

According to Ben Axelrod of Scout.com, an NFL scout said the holes in Miller's game aren't glaring or lethal, but they remain evident on tape:

“He’s not a project. He’s not a Tim Tebow-type player. But at the same time when you look at the throwing talent of other guys that are going to be in this class, he’s not in the top tier either,” the scout said. “He’s got functional arm strength. He’s probably in the middle 50 percent of arm strength that you see in the NFL.

“His accuracy has a lot of room for improvement, and that’s not even what’s his pure completion percentage—where is he putting the ball? Is it a place where a guy can get more yards?—all the little things that go in right there.”

If he can fix all those little things alluded to by the scout, the precedent has already been set for Miller to become a top-10 pick. That precedent is a player named Johnny Manziel (perhaps you've heard of him?), who faced similar questions entering 2013 and passed with flying colors.

Manziel raised flags with both his physical tools (i.e., height) and personality, but most of all, people wondered if he could ever learn to refine his accuracy and become a deadly pocket passer. He worked with QB guru George Whitfield in the offseason, a concerted effort to improve where scouts thought he needed to.

According to B/R's Matt Miller and Michael Felder, it worked:

That assessment was corroborated in Manziel's final numbers. His passing metrics—completion percentage, rating, total yards, yards per attempt—were up across the board, and his rushing metrics were down. He still flashed his legs when he needed to, but he became more judicious and proved the ability to win in multiple ways.

Now Manziel finds himself in the conversation to be drafted No. 1 overall this April, despite those aforementioned concerns about his size and temperament. For an athletic, new-breed, high-upside quarterback like Manziel or Miller, showing growth as a passer during his final season of college is the primary mission objective.

In that regard, the track to becoming a top-10 pick has been laid before Miller's feet. If he can do some of the things Manziel did in 2013, he'll become a commodity that NFL scouts drool over. Of course, "doing some of the things Manziel did" is a lot easier said than done, but if there's one quarterback in college football capable of achieving it, Miller might be him.

In terms of sheer escapability, no other player compares.

Much like Manziel, Miller can also inflate his stock with a couple of well-timed signature performances. Manziel made his name against Alabama in 2012 and substantiated it against Alabama in 2013. Moments like that are not lost on NFL scouts and GMs, who don't take level of competition for granted.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

With Michigan State and Virginia Tech on next year's schedule, Miller has a couple of prime opportunities to make a similar statement. Those teams finished Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, in Football Outsiders' defensive F/+ ratings this past season and should, despite some key losses, be strong again in 2014.

Miller won't need to post huge numbers against the Hokies and Spartans; he can pad the box score in other weeks. Instead, he needs to post efficient numbers against the two best defenses on his schedule, to keep the game in control.

A big part of that will be health, another key factor in Miller's draft stock. Before getting hurt in 2013, the then-junior quarterback look discernibly more confident in the pocket and leading the offense. His throwing mechanics looked better, his accuracy was sharper and he generally seemed to have more faith in his game.

Miller didn't play "poorly" down the stretch, per se, but he certainly didn't play as well. Especially against Michigan, he missed some open throws that he wasn't missing at the start of the year. Given the way he had (and has) always performed in the clutch, it's hard chalking those misfires up to choking in the moment. It seemed more like physical discomfort.

Confidence will thus play a big part in Miller's ascent—the will to be and belief that he is the best player in America. So was the advice proffered to Miller from former Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2006 and bounced around the NFL for five seasons.

"When you make that leap, you want it to be a shoo-in," said Smith before Miller announced his return, according to Mike Huguenin of NFL.com. "I wouldn't want to be the second guy (drafted), the third guy, anywhere but in the best position he can be.

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"And [Miller] has the talent to eventually be in that spot."

Miller doesn't need to be Manziel from the Chick-fil-A Bowl. That type of confidence is rare, and leadership comes in all different shapes and forms.

But it wouldn't hurt for Miller to lead a couple of comebacks—or to play well enough in big games that a comeback is not required. NFL evaluators will forgive his defense if it struggles again, just as they have for Manziel. What they won't forgive is losing another pair of close games on the big stage, as he did to end the season against Michigan State and Clemson.

With Carlos Hyde gone, this will officially become Miller's offense next season. He has all the talent in the world, and with a little polish—that one, final P—to go with a little bit of luck, there's no reason he can't be a top-10 pick in 2015.

There's no reason he can't go even higher.

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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