A two-time All American and winner of the Butkus Award for his senior year in 2010, Von Miller was expected to be a top-five selection in the NFL draft as the nation’s best 3-4 outside linebacker. His pass-rushing skills over his final two college seasons had earned comparisons with Derrick Thomas as he recorded an impressive 27.5 sacks and 39 tackles for loss, and he proceeded to stamp his ticket to the NFL with an excellent combine. Under the lights of Lucas Oil Stadium he led all linebackers in the broad jump, 3-cone drill and set a combine record in the 60-yard shuttle. He rounded out a truly elite performance by posting top 3 figures in the 40-yard dash (4.53), vertical jump and the 20-yard shuttle.
What set Miller apart from his peers in the eyes of scouts was his quickness, burst and explosion. It’s an old adage, but you can’t teach speed. As with mostly players with a first step like Von Miller, he was typecast as a pure pass-rusher who lacked the size to play as a 4-3 defensive-end, and potentially could struggle against the run in the pros. Still despite these concerns, his character and production were too much to pass up for a Broncos team still looking for a pass-rushing compliment to Elvis Dumervil (after Robert Ayers had not panned out as expected), and they promptly selected him second overall in the draft.
Denver’s 4-3 scheme under new Head Coach John Fox was not ideal for Von Miller’s skillset, but he had earned himself a starting spot at SLB by Week 1. He kicked off his NFL career by charting an excellent +4.9 performance (with one QB pressure on just 9 blitzes), which was to be just the tip of the iceberg for the talented former Aggie. Used primarily as an outside linebacker (82% of snaps) Von Miller recorded 12 regular season sacks, double any other 4-3 OLB’s total, despite having played the final six games of the season with his right-hand in a cast after fracturing his thumb. He also disrupted opposing quarterbacks on 15.5% of his pass-rushes which was only shade worst than Cameron Wake (16.6%), but above former Pro-Bowlers Clay Matthews (14.9%) and Tambi Hali (14.4%), highlighting just how effective he was at getting after the quarterback. The injury (and arguably rookie fatigue) did blunt Von Miller’s effectiveness when blitzing in the closing games of the year though as he failed to record a single sack in after Week 15. No longer a rookie and with full offseason under his belt I’d expect Miller to become an even more effective pass-rusher in 2012 and don’t see any reason why he cannot improve on his sack total this year, especially with Dumervil back to full health too.
The most outstanding part of Von Miller’s game however was not his exceptional pass-rush that earned him a +25.5 grade (thanks to his 12 sacks, 19 hits and 29 pressures), but rather the unexpected success he had against the run. Although he did not deliver a high volume of tackles (49), he recorded eight for a loss, missing none, and his +22.6 rating was only bested by top run-stuffing defensive tackles Sione Pouha and Brodrick Bunkley. Miller’s sturdy run defense proved him to be a capable everydown linebacker so he should see in excess of 1,000 snaps this year. I’d also expect a slight increase in his tackle totals next season for the same reasons as earlier stated; he’ll be a year wiser and would hope not to play six games with his broken thumb protected in a cast.
There is a lot to like about Von Miller’s prospects as a pro, but as with all linebackers in fantasy football, the safest and surest bets are 4-3 middle linebackers and 3-4 inside linebackers. As Von Miller plays the least valuable position, 4-3 outside linebacker, itmakes him a less valuable commodity, but his 3-4 OLB-like production belies that fact. As a rookie Miller showed himself to be one of the league’s most naturally talented edge-rushers and in big play scoring systems his value will be much higher. More balanced scoring systems limit his value as they require more consistent tackle totals if a player is to be counted on as an every week starter. PFF’s projections see Von Miller as a high-end LB3 with potential, and I’d suggest he could be a very useful match-up based IDP flex or alternate.
Questions and comments are always welcome via Twitter – @PFF_RossMiles