The New England Patriots have been linked to Ohio State wide receiver Braxton Miller for the past year. Miller was a three-year starter at quarterback, including two consecutive seasons as a First Team All Big 10 quarterback and Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year.
Miller suffered a shoulder injury prior to his senior year and freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett emerged during that lost season. Instead of transferring or causing a scene, Miller realized his future wouldn't be at quarterback and elected to use his 6'1, 205 lbs frame and insane athleticism to convert into a wide receiver.
While Ohio State didn't really utilize Miller to his full capacity, the newly-transformed receiver collected 340 receiving yards and 261 rushing yards as the team's third leading offensive skill player behind first round prospects running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver Michael Thomas.
It turns out that the Patriots have been showing interest in Miller's potential in the NFL.
New England has plenty of places where they could use their second round pick, including a future starting offensive tackle to replace the aging Sebastian Vollmer, a possible starting cornerback should Logan Ryan depart in free agency after 2016, or even a top tier running back.
But there's also an indisputable need at wide receiver. Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Brandon LaFell will all be 30 or older before the end of the upcoming season. The team needs to start planning for a future at the position and the draft is the best way to take advantage of cheap talent.
The Patriots have tried and failed to develop wide receivers year after year after year because they continue to draft athletic specimens that have no understanding of route running. Chad Jackson. Bethel Johnson. Brandon Tate. Taylor Price. Aaron Dobson. These are all wildly athletic players that did not possess an advanced route tree that would allow them to contribute on field during game day.
Miller falls into the same category, which is why I'm extremely hesitant of the Patriots connection. The marriage certainly follows the Patriots modus operadi, and would also seemed destined to fail.
Except for one major factor.
"You know why [Edelman] made it, right?" Former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis posed to Sports Illustrated's Greg Bedard. "Because he was a college quarterback. He thinks like a quarterback. He's really sharp."
Miller will have the distinct advantage of being able to understand how and why the Patriots offense will function. He will better understand where quarterback Tom Brady expects him to be at any given time. He will be better able to envision the entire offense, instead of just one individual aspect.
The former quarterback also seems to have the desire to put in the time necessary to succeed at the next level.
"I use the example of Deion Branch and the hours of work he put in with [Brady]," Texans coach and former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien told Bedard. "I'd say the same thing about [Rob] Gronkowski. During Gronk's rookie year, [Brady] would keep that kid after practice for hours. We'd say, ‘Tom, you're going to kill this guy.' "
There is no shortage of stories about Miller's desire to succeed, and how his teammates rallied around his goal.
An ESPN report noted that "Miller brought guys such as safety Vonn Bell, quarterback Cardale Jones and wide receiver Michael Thomas along to late-night workouts to ramp up the transition process."
"[Determination] drove him through hours of work, including some days when Miller would check into the practice facility twice for extra time catching balls from a JUGS machine. It led to phone calls, texts or clandestine in-person invitations to hit the practice field for throwing sessions with those briefed on the transition."
Does Miller have the qualities necessary to survive with the Patriots, or is New England just throwing up a smoke screen? There are endless prospects far more polished that would also be available around the end of the second round and well into the third round, including Rutgers' Leonte Caroo, Colorado State's Rashard Higgins, Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard, Pittsburgh's Tyler Boyd, Michigan State's Aaron Burbridge, Mississippi State's De'Runnya Wilson, and Tulsa's Keyarris Garrett.
Ultimately, Miller might not make it to the Patriots pick in the second round. An AFC Scout told Mocking the Draft's Dan Kadar that Miller will be taken in the top 40.
But the idea of New England selecting a wide receiver early in the draft might be a little more serious than typically given credit.