On the morning of Aug. 18, 2014, Braxton Miller was on top of the college football world. A preseason Heisman Trophy favorite, the Ohio State senior was considered one of the top quarterbacks in the nation.
That day, Miller’s world changed. A routine short pass during a non-contact drill in practice ended with a torn labrum in his surgically repaired throwing shoulder.
The strange thing is, that injury really may have been the best thing for Miller. Now a wide receiver, Miller could hear his name called at some point Friday during Day 2 of the NFL Draft – likely much higher than he may have gone had he stayed at quarterback.
“It wasn’t meant for me to be a quarterback in the NFL,” Miller told Newsday on Wednesday. “I had a different route I had to take. I had to figure it out.”
Prior to the injury, Miller was coming off a season in which he repeated as Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. He entered 2014 with 5,292 career passing yards, 3,054 rushing yards and 84 total touchdowns. But after J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones helped lead the Buckeyes to a national title that season, Miller — who was granted an extra year of eligibility — spoke to head coach Urban Meyer in May 2015 about switching to H-back once he was fully healthy.
“I couldn’t throw over 45 yards,” Miller said, “but I was 100 percent.”
It was that switch that helped put Miller on the radar of NFL scouts. He totaled 601 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns last season, showing off the same elusiveness and speed that made him a dangerous scrambler as a quarterback.
Miller credited some of his quarterback smarts with helping him transition to receiver. “Just knowing the fronts, the defense, the coverage, how to get open around defenders,” he said.
Miller said he worked out for 12 teams, but he knows he’s still far from being a complete receiver. He hopes to be even more versatile at the NFL level and prove he can handle an outside receiver role instead of playing just on in the inside as he did at Ohio State.
Yet, Miller knows what got him to this spot in the first place.
“I think my biggest strength is my hands. My hands are strong, I have good ball skills,” he said. “Being an athlete helped a lot, my strength and speed.”
Miller is in Chicago as part of Courtyard’s NFL Draft Town experience. Five of his teammates — defensive end Joey Bosa, running back Ezekiel Elliott, linebacker Darron Lee, offensive tackle Taylor Decker and cornerback Eli Apple — also are in Chicago, but they’ll be in the green room at Auditorium Theatre waiting for commissioner Roger Goodell to call their name Thursday night.
Miller said he hoped to hang out with those guys, but it’ll be tough to get them all together in one spot. “Everybody’s getting pulled different ways,” he said.
Miller is one of 21 Ohio State players in this draft, and more than half of them — including Miller — could know their new team within the first 50 picks. They’ve all pushed each other during the lead-up to the draft, demonstrating the Buckeyes’ overall strength these past few years. That camaraderie was evident during a recent “SportsCenter” appearance by Elliott. The likely top-10 pick made his own mock draft in which he had his teammates going in each of the first nine picks (and even then, he only stopped at nine because the monitor ran out of Ohio State players).
Miller followed suit Wednesday when asked which Buckeye he thought would be drafted highest. “We’re all dominant, we all wish we can go as high as possible,” he said. “I think we’re all on the same level. There are different teams that need different needs.”
In the meantime, Miller is hoping to make his own dream become a reality. Nearly a year after the biggest decision of his life, Miller sounded relaxed as he prepared for the biggest weekend of his life.
Said Miller: “Everything’s on the up-and-up.”