Players switch positions regularly without fans so much as batting an eye. What's unusual is the series of events that led to Ohio State's Braxton Miller going from All-Big Ten quarterback to a highlight-making wide receiver. With less than a month until the NFL Draft, Miller has found his spot among the best wide receiver prospects in the country.
In 2011, Braxton Miller was getting ready for his first season as a college football player. A highly regarded five-star player out of Dayton, Miller was recruited by and committed to former head coach Jim Tressel. Miller was expected to come in and learn under Terrelle Pryor for a season before taking the reins.
But then "Tattoogate" happened and led to the early departures of both Tressel and Pryor. Suddenly, Miller was thrust into the starting role under interim head coach Luke Fickell.
Braxton the playmaking QB
In his true freshman season, Miller earned the starting role in the fourth game of the year. The young quarterback did his best in a trying year for the Buckeyes, throwing for 1,159 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also led the team in rushing with 715 yards and seven touchdowns. Ohio State finished with just a 6-7 record, but Miller showed promise, most notably when he hit Devin Smith for a game-winning touchdown against the Russell Wilson-led Wisconsin Badgers.
At the end of the season, Miller was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
Urban Meyer was hired on ahead of the 2012 season, and was the perfect coach to develop a talent like Miller's. Meyer, who had coached Alex Smith and Tim Tebow in college, was a huge fan of Miller's right out of the gate.
"Braxton Miller is the most dynamic player I've ever coached. I've had first-rounders all over the place. But Braxton is strong, he's 215 now, and his acceleration is just off the charts. He also has a degree of humility that you almost never see in quarterbacks at Top 10 programs," Meyer said per Cleveland.com.
The quarterback had a breakout year in his sophomore campaign, finishing the season with over 2,000 passing yards and 15 touchdowns. Miller continued to be a weapon on the ground, adding 1,271 rushing yards -- the most ever for an Ohio State quarterback in a single season -- and 13 touchdowns. He also set a new school record for total offense with 3,310 yards and was voted the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. Ohio State finished the season with a perfect 12-0 record.
"If you don't have that kid, you start your coaching career here at Ohio State with a .500 or 8-5 or 8-4 record," Meyer said.
Ohio State had taken a self-imposed bowl ban that season following the tattoo scandal, leaving players and fans wondering what could have been. But Miller's first year playing under Urban Meyer was just a tease for the heights the quarterback and the team could reach.
In 2013, Miller found his stride as a quarterback. He threw for 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns, not to mention another 1,000-yard rushing season and 12 more scores on the ground. After missing two games with a knee injury, Miller returned against Wisconsin and tied a career high with four touchdown passes, including a 40-yard bomb to Corey "Philly" Brown.
By season's end, he was once again voted Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, becoming the only player to win the award twice.
The best-laid plans ...
The Buckeyes once again raced out to a 12-0 record in that 2013 season, but they dropped their final two games, including a 40-35 loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl. More significantly, Miller injured his right throwing shoulder early in the game, and despite finishing -- and almost winning -- the game, he later described the pain as a 9.5 out of 10. He subsequently had minor outpatient surgery in February, but was fully expected to be back in time for the start of the 2014 season.
Eager to rejoin his squad, Miller participated in fall camp and was an early Heisman favorite. Eleven days before the season opener, he suffered a torn labrum during a noncontact drill. Miller was again forced to go under the knife on his throwing shoulder and ended up missing the entire 2014 season. From the sidelines, Miller watched as the team he helped rebuild won the first ever College Football Playoff National Championship and his backups, J.T. Barrett and third-stringer Cardale Jones, found stardom.
With his future in the starting role less than secure, rumors swirled that Miller, who earned his undergraduate degree, would utilize the NCAA's graduate transfer rule and suit up for another school in his last year of eligibility. Despite being named a captain, Miller had to publicly declare he was staying at Ohio State.
"I'm from Ohio, this is my home state. This is where I started and this is where I'm going to finish it."
After a year on the sideline, Miller was ready to get back on the gridiron, and decided his best chance at doing so would be in a non-throwing position.
"I knew after the last checkup that I wasn't ready for quarterback," Miller said, via ESPN. "I couldn't throw over 40 yards. I was throwing hard, about 70 mph, 20 yards. But I couldn't throw over 40 yards. There's no point in playing quarterback if you can't throw over 40 yards. It was devastating."
In late July, news broke that the two-time Big Ten Quarterback of the Year would switch to wide receiver.
Braxton the electrifying WR
Miller started thinking about the position change in April, when he first discussed it with Ohio State strength coach Mickey Marotti. Miller waited until May to bring it up to Meyer, and soon started taking clandestine receiver reps from Barrett late at night.
As his Plan B, Miller intended to keep the possibility of changing positions a secret. He was hoping his shoulder would heal enough to allow him to take snaps at quarterback his final season in Columbus, but wanted to make sure that he would take the field in 2015 regardless of his health.
Looking back, Miller sees the switch was a blessing.
"Absolutely, for sure. I love it. I'm just thankful to play football again," Miller said at the NFL Combine. "I'm out here doing what I love to do and putting everything in God's hands. That's what I've been doing, just perfecting my craft. I want to be one of the best. That's what I've been doing since I switched positions."
Teammates had already expressed support for their former signal caller when he decided to make the transition, but fans had their doubts. Miller was sure to quell any concerns with his new position in the first game of the season.
Looking for some revenge against the only team to hand them a loss in 2014, the Buckeyes were hoping their 2015 season opener against Virginia Tech would end in victory. Little did people know that in addition to a win, Ohio State was ushering in the Braxton Miller wide receiver era, one he solidified with a spin move that captivated college football.
In a letter he later penned to Buckeye Nation, Miller looked back on the significance of this one move.
"It meant I'd persevered. It meant I'd recovered. It meant that, after everything I'd been through, I'd made it all the way back and then some," he wrote at The Players' Tribune. "It meant that finally, again, I was able to do the one thing that I had always wanted more than anything else: to help Ohio State win football games."
He wasn't as dynamic in his new position as he had been in the pocket, recording just 260 rushing and 341 receiving yards for four total touchdowns, but the team's offense as a whole struggled amid a prolonged quarterback competition between Barrett and Jones.
Still, Miller's overarching athleticism and speed far outweighed his skill at a specific position. He flashed moments of brilliance -- much like he had at quarterback -- including a juggling catch against Rutgers that not many players would have come away with:
Throughout his final season at Ohio State, Miller made difficult catches and often took direct snaps for a short rush up the field. But he never threw a pass.
Next stop, NFL
For someone who missed an opportunity to learn under Pryor, Miller took a page out of the former Buckeye's playbook. Last year, Pryor made the shift to wideout following a series of cuts in the NFL, and turned it into a job with the Cleveland Browns.
If Miller had stuck with quarterback, there's no guarantee his skills would translate successfully to the league. And he has more of a head start at receiver than Pryor did, with a full season of game tape to show scouts and some additional position training before trying to make it in the pros. Miller has used the time ahead of the NFL Draft to show off his receiving skills and improved route-running ability at the Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine and Ohio State's pro day.
The quarterback-turned-receiver isn't lacking confidence when it comes to the draft, stating at the Combine that he knows "for sure" he could be a first-round pick.
He might be a little higher on himself than some of the draft experts, however. Miller likely won't be selected in the first round, though he is considered a solid Day 2 pickup. While he may need more development at the position than the typical incoming wideout, he also has a high ceiling considering his lack of experience and his ability to make jaw-dropping plays whenever he touches the ball.
Miller won't be an NFL quarterback like he dreamed of when he first got to Ohio State. But he still has the chance to be a star.