After being out with an knee injury, Ohio State’s Heisman contending passer Braxton Miller returned this past weekend against Wisconsin, and showed no signs of lingering injury concerns or rust. Miller boasted four touchdowns as he lead his team to victory, impressing in ways that both excited his head coach Urban Meyer as well as kept NFL scouts’ interest’s piqued as they watch the athletic passer.
But Ohio State wasn’t desperate for Miller back, after his backup and fifth year senior Kenny Guiton had lead them to wins in back to back weeks while winning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week both times. And while Guiton has returned to his spot firmly behind Miller, both quarterbacks are now in the minds of NFL evaluators.
Braxton Miller’s performance against Wisconsin was potentially one of the most impressive of his entire career, both from a statistical and scouting sense. Statistically, it was his first four-touchdown, zero-interception game of his career. Also, it was the first time he’s completed more than 65% of his passes in a game where he threw 25 or more times.
But, especially for our purposes, it was the way he was throwing the ball that thoroughly impressed. Possessing a very live arm, Miller consistently utilized his over the top and quick release along with his strong arm for a passer of his size to test the Wisconsin defense vertically and in the middle of the field. More efficient with his eye level on the move than in years' past, Miller made decisive reads on multiple rollouts which lead to touchdowns. Miller also ran the ball 22 times, a large majority of that coming off the read option, an area where he seems very comfortable, which now looks like a translatable NFL skill, based on the NFL’s desire to run more read option.
Generally a bit erratic in his placement as his games’ progress, Miller was appeared comfortable and controlled throughout the game, finishing his throws nicely and consistently spinning a tight ball. Mechanically, his throwing base is still an issue, as his feet get too wide when he resets in the pocket, and throws flat-footed still too often, both lingering concerns that are coachable but haven’t been fixed in his three years at Ohio State. Also, outside of basic reads in the pocket and on the perimeter, the Ohio State offense doesn’t ask him to make multiple progressions, another red flag as Miller attempts to make the jump from college to pro passer either this season or next.
As for the now-backup Kenny Guiton, he didn’t throw a single pass against Wisconsin, instead playing the role of cheerleader and clipboard holder after back to back impressive performances the weeks prior. But Guiton showed no signs of being upset or disgruntled, which comes to no surprise to the Ohio State team. Braxton Miller looks up to him like a big brother while Urban Meyer refers to him as “coach”.
But even though Guiton likely won’t get another start this year (barring another Braxton Miller injury), he’s done enough to excite NFL evaluators. Not since Matt Cassell was drafted in the 7th round of the 2005 NFL Draft has a backup quarterback been even considered as an NFL prospect. But Guiton’s footwork, composure, and consistency shown in his big wins over California and Florida A&M may be all the redshirt senior needs to be heavily involved in the true “NFL Draft Season” come January.
Playing somewhat different styles despite the same system, Guiton doesn’t have Miller’s level of arm strength or quickness as a runner. With a low release point, Guiton’s passes tend to sail at times when he doesn’t set his feet well enough. However, he does a very impressive job of resetting his feet in the pocket and between reads, remaining in ideal position to deliver the ball on both short and vertical routes. Despite having limited game experience in his career, Guiton looked composed and controlled during his stay as Ohio State’s starting passer, handling pressure well and stretching the defense vertically whenever possible.
As for as their NFL prospects go, it’s unclear who may be more desirable for NFL franchises. On one hand, the athletic and live-armed junior Miller has the upside to run an offense that has allowed for Robert Griffin and Russell Wilson success early in their career. While he still needs ample polish as a passer and doesn’t have much experience in making NFL level reads, his talent-level is undeniable and fits the new mold of future NFL quarterbacks.
On the other hand, Guiton appears to be the more polished, composed of the two passes, adjusting his feet and field vision even more comfortably than Miller and showcasing a high football IQ and confidence in his ability to step in and perform at a high level right away. While a lack of experience and some concerns about his 25+ yard ball placement won’t be answered until post-season all-star games, he’s piqued enough interest that he’ll be closely tracked after the season.
Urban Meyer’s quotes and Braxton Miller’s play have shored up any possible “quarterback controversy” at Ohio State. Miller is the starter, now until the rest of the season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him lead the Buckeyes to an undefeated season.
The good news for Braxton Miller is that he’ll have the rest of the season (and potentially the 2014 year) to impress NFL scouts, something Guiton won’t get. And as for Guiton, he can hang his hat on Matt Cassell, and not Matt Leinart, still playing in the NFL despite their college depth chart. After the season’s over, NFL evaluators will have their eyes on these two quarterbacks, especially if Miller decides to declare for the 2014 NFL Draft, and they’re choice on who to rank higher between the two may be as easy of a decision as Urban Meyer has made it seem.