Before practices began at this year's Senior Bowl, Braxton Miller was a bit of an enigma. For Ohio State this season, Miller switched from quarterback to a type of hybrid offensive weapon.
He ran the ball 42 times for 260 yards and a touchdown. He caught the ball 26 times for 341 yards and three touchdowns. He showed intrigue, but those are not exactly dazzling numbers. Miller's usage was indicative of Ohio State's up-and-down season on offense, so it was hard to figure out what to make of him as a prospect for the 2016 NFL Draft.
Following three practice sessions in Mobile, Ala. that is no longer the case. Miller was unquestionably the week's biggest star. The Dallas Cowboys coaching staff running the North roster worked Miller outside and in the slot, and he was really good at both.
"I feel like every team needs playmakers and they've mentioned that I can do it all, whether it's being a punt returner, in the backfield as a decoy and playing on the outside," Miller said earlier this week. "It's a great feeling being able to do all that stuff and still learn so much at the same time."
Miller proved to be a quick learner during the week. Coaches tasked Miller with keeping his eyes up on routes and be tighter in his movements. Later in the week, he showed off what he learned. More than once, in fact:
"We're coaching these guys hard and it's good to see how well he's responded to that coaching," Dallas Cowboys head coach said. "Clearly a great athlete and a productive football player, and someone that has a lot of upside."
With Miller starting to actualize that upside, Miller's draft stock is clearly on the rise. It will go even higher if he runs a 4.28 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, like he predicted this week. Miller also said he closely follows the play of Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots and Randall Cobb of the Green Bay Packers. Miller's game and his path to the the NFL mirrors Cobb, a quarterback and receiver at the University of Kentucky. Cobb was eventually picked with the last pick of the second round in 2011. Miller might not last that long.
"He's a top-40 pick, and that showed this week," an AFC scout said this week. "If he was ever under the radar, he isn't anymore."
The Senior Bowl week belonged to Miller, but he was far from the only standout. Here's who helped themselves the most leading up to today's game, which is at 1:30 p.m. on the NFL Network.
Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville: Rankins won't play in the Senior Bowl game after tweaking his knee early in the week. But when he practiced he was impressive. Rankins' game is speed and technique, and that made him nearly unblockable all week. Rankins had a good season at Louisville with 58 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and six sacks. His best role moving forward will be playing three-technique on a 4-3 team.
Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky: What happened off the field this week was just as important as what he did on it. Spence needed to be forthcoming to teams about the drug issues that got him dismissed at Ohio State, and he was during a multitude of meetings with personnel members. If you couple that with what Spence showed this week, it's easy to see him becoming a top-15 pick in April. All week, Spence was terrorizing offensive linemen with his speed and ability to bend around the edge. Star pass rushers like Spence don't last long in the draft.
Nick Vannett, TE, Ohio State: At Ohio State, Vannett was underutilized in head coach Urban Meyer's spread offense. Vannett said after practice on Thursday that he wanted to show he's much more of a pass catcher and playmaker. After a good week of practice, Vannett's mission was accomplished. Vannett has good size at 6'5 3/4 and 256 pounds, and used it to body defenders all week to create room to make catches. Vannett's teammate Jeff Heuerman was a third-round pick at tight end last year. Vannett could go even higher.
Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech: It was a good, consistent week for Butler. At 325 pounds, he moved around much better than expected and is a naturally strong player against the run. Butler is working this offseason on his pass rush ability, and some of that flashed during one-on-one drills. In a loaded defensive tackle class, Butler justified his second-round status at the Senior Bowl.
What about Carson Wentz?
North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz was the headline player of this year's Senior Bowl. Physically, Wentz has all the tools you want in a franchise quarterback. The week for Wentz began with an impressive weigh-in where he came in at just under 6'5 1/4 and 233 pounds. Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage said Wentz could be a top-10 pick this year.
"Physically I've got a lot to offer with being able to make all of the throws and then some athleticism that people probably wouldn't expect from a big 6'5 kid like me," Wentz said. "Then, obviously the system we ran at North Dakota State was very pro-style, multiple, so I'm looking forward to that transitioning and helping me going forward."
The system helps Wentz. The size and athleticism helps Wentz. He's worth discussing as a high first-round pick because of those things. But Wentz didn't exactly dazzle with his accuracy during the week. He missed several easy passes on Tuesday and looked best throwing short over the middle and on slants the rest of the week. Did Wentz have some good red zone completions? He did, particularly on one red zone pass placed on the back shoulder of Michigan State wide receiver Aaron Burbridge.
The week for Wentz was good. It was not great. From a player who some in the NFL expect to be the first quarterback taken in the draft, it's not unreasonable to expect much more.
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SB Nation presents: 2016 NFL Draft early studs and sleepers