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Braxton Miller the RB over Braxton Miller the WR

Anthony Calatayud recently made the case for Braxton Miller, the wide receiver prospect, but I’m here today to introduce you to Braxton Miller, the running back.

Maybe it’s silly for me to suggest that a guy who just spent a year becoming a wide receiver should revert back to his run-heavy ways, but let’s be real: Braxton Miller is a MASSIVE GAMBLE as a receiver.

How massive of a gamble is he? For his entire college career, he has 340 receiving yards. Despite his raw skills and minimal production, he is currently the #11 wide receiver according to the latest RotoViz Scouting Index, which crowdsources expert ranks into a single number. Looking at historical trends for how positional ranks translate to NFL Draft outcomes, the #11 receiver will be drafted, on average, around the 80th overall pick. At that price, Braxton Miller would be a MASSIVE GAMBLE as a receiver.

For historical perspective, here is every “wide receiver” drafted since 2005 who had less than 680 career receiving yards, which is double Miller’s career total. Hold onto your hats.

PlayerDraft PickCar FBS Rec YdsCar NFL Scrm Yds
Braxton MillerTBD3400
Matt Jones21582189
Devin Hester571963427
Armanti Edwards890143
Brad Smith1031301959
Denard Robinson135311202
Marques Hagans144273106
Jeremy Bloom1474580
Matt Slater153052
Roy Hall1695809
Rasheed Marshall17422-8
Kaelin Clay1845230
Evan Spencer1875790
Ethan Kilmer2092360
Jordan Kent2106055
Brett Swain21752887
Marcus Maxwell2234015
Bennie Brazell2313400
James Wright239304121

I can’t believe I’m about to type this, but Matt Jones from Arkansas is actually the outcome you are hoping for if you select Miller. And let’s be clear, Matt Jones, also a converted quarterback, was a 6-foot-6-inch, 240-pound unicorn who ran a 4.4 forty, had a 39.5 inch vertical jump. Too bad he enjoyed controlled substances, or he really might have been something. Yes, Devin Hester actually had the most NFL production, but his route from collegiate defensive back to NFL special teams ace and offensive weapon was fairly different than Miller’s journey.

That leaves us with two other converted college quarterbacks in Brad Smith and Denard Robinson. Beyond that, Miller’s comparable group is a bunch of duds. I think what makes Smith and Robinson interesting to this conversation is that they were spectacular runners in college, like Miller. Guys who had minimal receiving production AND not much rushing production in college have had almost no success in the NFL. We need to embrace Braxton’s running ability.

Below I’ve plotted the collegiate rushing production of Miller, Robinson and Smith against the collegiate production trend line established by the NFL’s top runners since 2000.

Braxton vs Denard vs Brad Smith

I know the graph is a bit crowded, but the take away here is that in his age 20 season Braxton Miller’s per-game rushing production was elite. And I don’t mean “elite for a quarterback,” I mean elite for anyone. In both his age 19 and age 21 seasons Miller was in the ball park of what elite NFL runners were doing during their college years. Notice how Smith and Robinson were also outstanding running back prospects in their own right. As far as NFL production, Smith’s career was about 50-50 run-catch production. Robinson has been much more of a true running back in Jacksonville. I think it’s actually their running ability that foreshadowed their potential NFL success.

While Miller’s early-career rushing production was on par with Smith and Robinson, we are still in the dark about his athleticism. For him to be a similar athlete to these two comparables, he should be aiming for the following marks, which are just the average of Smith and Robinson’s workout numbers. Miller’s height and weight reflect how he’s listed on the Ohio State site.

Denard Robinson70.51994.4336.51234.227.09
Brad Smith74.12134.5439.51284.337.00
Braxton Miller (Targets)74.02154.4938.01254.287.05

After seeing the spin-move play against Virginia Tech and seeing a social media post from Miller that suggests he has run in the 4.3, I’m inclined to think he can hit those marks.

Comparing Miller to the 2016 Running Back Class

By most accounts, including the RotoViz Scouting Index, the running back class is fairly wide open after Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry at the top. I’m inclined to believe that Alex Collins, Kenneth Dixon and Devontae Booker are the next best options, so I’m going to compare Miller’s rushing career to those players (thanks for ignoring the mis-titled header on the graph).

Braxton Miller RB career vs 2016 top RBs

In my estimation, Dixon was best near the age 19 axis, Braxton was best near the age 20 axis and Collins was the best near the age 21 axis. Devontae Booker’s age makes him harder to compare to this group, but think of it like this: Miller’s age 20 season was basically the same as Booker’s age 22 season. To summarize this plot, I think it’s fair to ask the question “why couldn’t Braxton Miller be a top-five running back prospect in this class?”

Will an NFL team actually let Braxton Miller play running back? I have no idea. But, in my opinion, he’s a much more bankable asset as a runner than as a receiver. Check out his running ability in this 2013 video against eventual Rose Bowl Champion Michigan State, which was his last game as a quarterback before missing 2014 with an injury and being converted to receiver in 2015. The run attempts start coming around two minutes into the video.

Jon Moore is a contributor at RotoViz and a cohost of Rotoviz Radio – A Fantasy Football Podcast. Continue this conversation with him on Google+Facebook or Twitter.

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