Player Evaluations | John Miller

01/17/2017
DB+

Second year right guard John Miller was a player that I was quite high on when the Buffalo Bills drafted him in 2015. After his first preseason, I made proclamations that he would be a future pro bowler. I believed that he would flourish in Greg Roman’s system. However, he proceeded to have a below average year and struggled to stay on the field. This was partly due to his struggles with a nagging ankle injury that limited him to 12 games. Overall, though, his strength and approach to the game were not as proficient as I expected them to be.

The Louisville alum put in a lot of hard work in the offseason, which included a complete overhaul of his diet. More importantly, he began to realize that playing guard isn’t just about strength and technique. He realized that to play guard in the Bills’ system, he must “approach our block based off what the defense is doing and capitalize off that.”

On the following play, he did just that. According to Richie Incognito, offensive line coach Aaron Kromer teaches pulling lineman to read the defensive end. If the defensive end shoots upfield, the guard (Miller) must “kick him out.”

If the defensive end plays on the line and spills it to the LB, then Miller must “log” him, which is exactly what he does. On this pin and pull run, Clay influences the defensive end Cameron Wake, causing him to crash, so Miller gets his hips around, turns and torques the end. This allows Shady to bounce the run. Miller capitalized on how the defensive end reacted to the play.

 

Miller’s commitment to gaining strength was noticeable all season. Check out how he uses torque to throw the defensive tackle Geno Atkins on this power run.

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Same torque, but a different run concept. The Bills run an inside zone behind Miller.

 

Miller was PFF’s 21st highest graded guard in run blocking, much better than last season.

The improvement in his run blocking can absolutely be attributed to being healthier this season.

Guards in Buffalo’s offense are often asked to pull and target defenders in space. He struggled to do that effectively last season, but it was one of his strengths this season.

 

On this play from the Dolphins game in week 16, Miller played his best game in the run game this season. He was often able to pull and move to the second level. Here he stays in the play and is able to block Alonso enough to spring McCoy for a 14 yard gain.

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As you can see, Miller also improved in the pass blocking department. Again, the lack of injury had a lot to do with his development, but some of the credit also has to go to Aaron Kromer. When you compare where Miller and even tackle Cyrus Kouandjio were before he took over to where they are now, the difference is night and day.

Most notably, their tactical moves prior to engaging or locking onto a defender have improved tremendously. On this pass set by Miller, the defensive lineman rushes wide, and he does a good job of mirroring the defender. The defender then tries shrinking the blocking surface area in order to get skinny through the gap. Miller stunts the rush with a left arm punch. The defender then engages and attempts to use his length to push past Miller.

But Miller stays in the fight by punching center mass with his right hand. The punch squares the defensive lineman to Miller, where he then locks on and continues to move his feet in close quarters.

Watch it in real time. These kinds of battles are fun to watch, and are typically not examined by the casual fan or mainstream media.

 

Not only were Miller’s physical abilities improved in 2016, but his ability to understand how defensive players are going to attack him schematically improved, too. On this pass play, Miller reads that the defensive lineman is rushing into the B gap, but he knows that he has help there. He keeps his head on a swivel in case oft blitzing linebacker Deone Bucannon zone blitzes, which he doesn’t. Miller remains calm, and the ‘looper’ Calais Campbell executes the game, but Miller picks it up easily. Great awareness by the second year player.

 

One critique that I would have of Miller is that he struggles against inside moves.

He wasn’t as susceptible as last season, but a considerable amount of pressures surrendered by Miller were on inside moves by defensive linemen. Miller’s worst-grade was versus the Steelers. It wasn’t surprising, considering how he was often matched up with Stephen Tuitt, one of the more talented 3-4 defensive ends in the league. In fact, Tuitt holds the third highest run stop percentage and the NFL and the 6th most pressures by a 3-4 defensive end.

Although Miller gives up the sack, the protection slid to the wrong side. The line should have slide right, which would’ve given Miller help. Either way, Miller oversets too far to his right and doesn’t have his feet underneath him as Tuitt slants inside to set up the edge rush, and John is unable to recover.

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Coming out of college, Miller wasn’t known as the most athletic guard. He wasn’t expected to be able to pull on long traps or execute blocks on moving targets. But he proved scouts wrong this year. Miller executed short traps, long traps and smooth scoops to the second level. His stride is more of a plodding style, but he gets the job done. The strength in his hands and upper body power in college were two of his biggest assets, but they were only average compared to NFL talent last season. But from what you saw in the clips, he brought the strength in his grip and upper body to another level this year, and it allowed the offense to average 5.6 yards per attempt to the A gap just inside Miller and 4.6 yards per attempt to B gap outside of him.

In pass protection Miller still has some work to do. He gave up the 12th most pressures for a guard with 33. Although some of those can be attributed to the style of passing game and play by quarterback Tyrod Taylor, Miller certainly needs to focus on defending his interior gap (A gap). His susceptibility to surrendering inside pressure is a major problem to an offense, and especially one that features a QB that gets ‘happy feet’ from time to time.

But when you turn on the film, it tells you all you need to know. If he is able to continue to progress under new offensive line coach Juan Castillo, sharpen his game and just stay committed to being a pro, there is no doubt in my mind that Miller will be Pro Bowler in the near future.

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