The Buffalo Bills finished the 2016 NFL Season with an 8-8 record, marking the 16th consecutive season in which they’ve missed the playoffs. However, their young core players provide hope for the future. Here at Building the Herd, we’ll be reviewing the play of the rookies taken in the 2015 NFL Draft. Now, we’ll take a look at right guard John Miller.
The Buffalo Bills selected Louisville guard John Miller in the third round with the No. 81 overall pick with the direct intention of him starting from day one. The 6’2” 303 pounder was an Honorable Mention on the 2014 All-ACC team and was second-team All-ACC in 2013. Miller started 47 games for the Cardinals, playing both right and left guard.
Miller has a thick, sturdy frame with relatively short arms (33 ¼”) and below-average athletic ability. At the combine, he ran a 5.33 40-yard dash, a 4.75 short-shuttle (23rd of 30 OL), 8.20 three-cone (fourth-slowest of all 2015 Combine participants), while posting a 27” vertical leap (seventh-lowest of all combine participants) and did 29 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press (4th best at position).
Miller’s lack of length and movement skills will put a ceiling on his potential, but coming out of Louisville he showed the ability to move defenders off the ball in the run game while showing enough play strength as a pass protector to have some evaluators intrigued.
Bills’ offensive coordinator Greg Roman has a run-first philosophy with a man/gap blocking scheme, so Miller isn’t asked to do a whole lot from an athletic standpoint. There were some occasions in which John Miller was asked to pull as a lead blocker on power runs or get out to the second level on some counters, but he’s typically assigned to down block in the run game.
John Miller played in 12 games during the 2015 season, missing some time due to a personal issue and injuries, but wasn’t very impressive by any means and has a long way to go before he can be considered as something other than a liability.
John Miller’s Pass Protection
John Miller struggled mightily in pass protection as a rookie. According to ProFootballFocus, Miller surrendered two sacks, five QB hits and 26 hurries. The 33 total pressures allowed were the 14th most among 82 qualifying guards, despite playing just 333 offensive snaps in pass protection which was fewer than 62 players at the positon.
Miller displays a quick first step off the ball and gets out of his stance quickly. When he keeps his feet shuffling, he has enough quickness to mirror defenders in close spaces.
However, there were far too many instances where Miller would not only stop shuffling, but would get flat-footed. This resulted in defenders easily beating him with both inside and outside rushes. Watch Miller’s feet in the following two plays. He gets into his pass set quickly, but his feet get glued to the grass and he’ll lunge at defenders.
Another major issue with Miller’s pass protection is his pad level. When Miller uses proper technique by getting into his set while maintaining a wide base, bending with his knees instead of his waist, and using his hands to punch and control a defender, he can sink his hips and anchor against a power rush.
But, more often than not, Miller would get too high in his stance, allowing defenders to get into his pads and drive him backwards.
Finally, John Miller has an inconsistent “punch” and hand placement when making initial contact with a defender. To be effective, an offensive lineman needs to be able to deliver a timely “punch” to redirect a pass rusher, something that John Miller isn’t able to do just yet. He’s got heavy hands but he doesn’t know how to use them well.
Here, Miller looks to make the initial contact, but the placement of his hands on the outside of Fletcher Cox’s shoulder pads do nothing to slow him down. Cox easily slaps Miller’s hands away and beats him across the face before just failing to bring Tyrod Taylor down for a sack.
In the same game, he completely misses with his punch and is beat across the face again and draws a holding penalty while trying to prevent another hit on Taylor.
There are times when he’ll keep his hands low and wait to “catch” a defensive lineman, rather than using his arms to explode through his man. This results in defenders being able to close the distance between them easily and have an advantage over him.
John Miller Run Blocking
John Miller didn’t really do much to stand out as a run blocker during his rookie season, but he was better in that area than as a pass protector. According to ProFootballFocus, the Bills averaged just 3.9 yards-per-carry running behind the right guard in 2015 while averaging 4.8 yards-per-carry as a whole.
Miller has a strong upper body with heavy hands that allow him to latch onto a defender and move him off the ball, as you can see in the following play.
Here, Miller fires off the snap and helps Eric Wood with a block on the nose tackle, before releasing and connecting with the inside linebacker who’s coming up to make the play.
That’s an aggressive mentality that was great to see, especially in his first career game, but unfortunately, he didn’t show that nasty demeanor enough throughout the year.
Against the Patriots, Miller is uncovered after the snap so he gets downfield where he’s got a great opportunity to bury the inside linebacker. Instead, Miller starts chop stepping—almost as if he’s waiting for the linebacker to just stack up with him—and the linebacker runs right past him and makes the stop.
When asked to pull as a lead blocker, John Miller showed that he has the quickness to get around the offensive line. Here, he executes his assignment perfectly on a power run to the left, sealing out the linebacker and opening a lane for Karlos Williams, who picks up over 20 yards.
While Miller is definitely capable of getting out to the second level, he often looked lost and clumsy, lunging at targets or not even attempting to seal someone out.
Furthermore, Miller needs to work on remembering to keep driving his feet through contact with a defender, as he’ll regularly latch onto his man only to extend his arms and simply “get in the way.”
He does this against the Colts and the nose tackle overpowers Miller, and moves him into the gap that LeSean McCoy is trying to get through.
Offensive linemen typically have one of the steeper learning curves when it comes to adjusting from the college game to the NFL level and John Miller definitely has a lot to work on. There were times when he showed the traits that you covet in a guard—his strength and ability to anchor, in addition to his movement skills as a lead blocker—which is promising. However, there are quite a few flaws to his game—mostly technique-related—that will need to be coached up and refined in order for him to improve his play going forward. For a third-round rookie that started from day one, the expectations shouldn’t be too high, but there were times when Miller was an absolute liability on the offensive line. Due to a lack of depth throughout the line, Miller is likely safe heading into the 2016 season, but he definitely shouldn’t be content with his rookie campaign.