On any short list of the best pass-rushers in the NFL, you have to include Denver's Von Miller. Yet the No. 2 overall pick in 2011 out of Texas A&M has never led the NFL in sacks. Will he in 2015? Miller is a +800 third-favorite on 5Dimes.
Draft Hit And Misses
Some drafts are really lousy at the top. How about 2012, for example? The No. 1 overall pick was Andrew Luck by the Indianapolis Colts. Obviously that was a slam dunk and Luck already is on a Hall of Fame pace. But look at the guys taken after him. The Redskins took Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III at No. 2, and while he was the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year, RGIII has regressed since and this is a make-or-break season. The Browns took Alabama running back Trent Richardson at No. 3, and Richardson has been a total bust, is now on his third team and will be a backup for Oakland, if he even makes the roster. At No. 4, Minnesota took USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil, and he is regressing. Jacksonville took Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, and he might have been good but has an addiction problem and his career is probably over. Dallas took LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne at No. 6 and he has underachieved. Ditto Alabama safety Mark Barron, who went No. 7 to Tampa Bay.
I mention this because I want to now reference the 2011 draft. The top seven picks all turned out to excellent players. The Carolina Panthers took Auburn quarterback Cam Newton at No. 1. No explanation needed there. The Broncos took Miller at No. 2. More on him in a minute. At No. 3, Buffalo took Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus at No. 3, and he's a Pro Bowler. Cincinnati picked fourth and grabbed Georgia receiver A.J. Green, and he's a four-time Pro Bowler. Check out my story on his chances to lead the NFL in receiving yards in 2015. At No. 5, Arizona selected LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, and he's one of the best in the NFL. Atlanta traded up to No. 6 and drafted Alabama receiver Julio Jones. He's a stud. And at No. 7, the 49ers took Missouri linebacker Aldon Smith. Mega-talent but has had major off-field issues and probably won't play in the NFL this year after a recent arrest and release from the Niners.
Miller Playing For Millions
Miller burst onto the scene in 2011 and had 64 tackles and 11.5 sacks with two forced fumbles. He was named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year -- even through Smith had 2.5 more sacks. Miller, who did miss one game and played four with a cast on his surgically-repaired thumb, got 39 of the 50 votes and Smith the other 11.
The next season was Miller's best as he had 18.5 sacks, which was third in the NFL and two behind leader J.J. Watt of Houston, who was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year -- it would have been unanimous but Miller got one vote. Injuries limited Miller to nine games in 2013 and he finished with just five sacks. And then last season, he played all 16 games for the second time in his career and had 14 sacks (and 71 quarterback pressures).
So why might Miller be a good bet this season to win the sacks title? Because this is the final year of his rookie contract, and when guys are coming upon free agency, they tend to play through minor injuries and a bit harder. It's human nature. Miller clearly is looking at the recent contract signed by 2014 sack leader Justin Houston of Kansas City. He signed a six-year, $101 million contract with Kansas City that includes $52.5 million in guarantees. The Denver Broncos could franchise Miller as they were able to sign star receiver Demaryius Thomas to a five-year, $70 million extension right before the deadline. That was obviously important because if it hadn't happened, the Broncos would have had to pick between franchising Thomas or Miller in 2016.
Another positive for Miller is that he has DeMarcus Ware opposite him in Denver's 3-4 scheme. So you can't double-team Miller because Ware is still a good player if not a star. Ware had 10 sacks last year. The Broncos also should be a very aggressive team under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. He replaces Jack Del Rio, who took the Oakland head coaching gig. The Broncos ran a 4-3 under Del Rio (well some hybrids at times). It's Phillips' second stint in the job as he was also the Broncos' defensive coordinator from 1989-92. And when Phillips was the Dallas head coach and using his 3-4, Ware had 60.5 sacks over those four seasons. So Phillips knows how to use premier pass-rushers.
NFL Free Pick: I worry about injuries with Miller a bit, but with the contract as a carrot, I do think he will win his first sack title at +800 at 5Dimes and be in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.