With the 2010 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before the 2011 scouting combine begins on Thursday, we'll be taking a closer look at the 40 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue our series with Texas A & M outside linebacker Von Miller, the winner of the 2010 Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker. Miller is as dynamic a pass rusher as you'll see in this draft class and among the best of the last few seasons. In 46 games, Miller amassed 32 sacks (30 solo), 47.5 tackles for loss (43 solo), 172 tackles (100 solo), 11 passes defensed, 10 forced fumbles and eight quarterback hurries. He led the nation in 2009 with 17 sacks and came on late in 2010 after recovering from an early season ankle injury to put up 10.5 sacks in his senior campaign.
Miller had a lot of buzz going into the Senior Bowl, and he was as impressive as advertised. A strong combine performance on top of that might propel Miller into the top five. In a defensive end class that's among the best ever, Miller is the top guy to watch when it comes to pure pass rushers.
Pros: Takes as quick a first step off the snap as you'll see, and he takes near-perfect angles to the quarterback. Fast even for a stand-up pass rusher. Has to be taken on one-on-one - he shoots through chip blocks as if they aren't happening. Extremely impressive footwork allows him to bait tackles inside or outside and move the other way to get an open lane.
Great speed to redirect after losing the back end of the pocket. Some of his sacks come as a result of his determination to chase quarterbacks down as they're leaving the pocket. Shoots inside with extreme quickness - unless the guard and/or center are prepared for it, Miller's going to shoot right past them. Can stack-and-shed very well for his size (6-foot-3, 237 pounds) to bring running backs down. Not a bad open-field tackler when the situation arises, but this is a guy whose gearbox is set to "forward" almost all the time.
Cons: Will need to put on a few pounds to succeed at the NFL level. Sometimes Miller is just winning speed battles against guys who don't have serious NFL futures. Lack of experience in coverage shows on tape, but there's no reason a player with his athleticism couldn't develop into a good intermediate pass defender. He displayed some coverage ability during Senior Bowl week. No real bull-rush to speak of; he lacks the upper-body strength to do that at this time.
Conclusion: Miller has had the late Derrick Thomas as his NFL model for success for a long time, but he puts me more in the mind of Clay Matthews(notes) because of his ability to stunt inside and play the LEO position in hybrid fronts. Matthews has become a nonpareil quarterback disruptor out of any front, and Miller has already proven to be the same. However, he's not scheme-transcendent - he'll have to put on far too much weight to be a legitimate 4-3 end. Where he'll no doubt excel right away as a situational rush end in a more straight-up five-man front. The rest is up to him, but Von Miller is as freakishly athletic for his position as anyone in this draft class.
NFL Comparison: Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers
More Shutdown 40
40 -- Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State | #39 - Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee
| #38 - Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor | #37 - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas | #36 -- Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami | #35 -- Danny Watkins, OL, Baylor | #34 - Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State | #33 -- Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State | #32 - Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida | #31 - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado | #30 - Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame | #29 - Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois | #28 - Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State | #27 - Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA | #26 - Brandon Harris, CB, Miami | #25 - Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin | #24 -- Jake Locker, QB, Washington| #23 -- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado| #22 - J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin | #21 - Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois| #20 - Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State | #19 - Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland | #18 - Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue | #17 - Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama | #16 - Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa | #15 - Tyron Smith, OT, USC | #14 - Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri | #13 - Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College | #12 - Cam Newton, QB, Auburn| #11 -- Cameron Jordan, DL, Cal| #10 - Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri | #9 - Julio Jones, WR, Alabama | #8 - Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska | #7 - Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama | #6 -- Robert Quinn, DE. North Carolina