What is Von Miller's ceiling?

September, 1, 2012
9/01/12
12:00
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Von Miller's second NFL season is about taking the next step.

As he showed in 2011, Miller is already a high-level NFL pass-rusher. He had 11.5 sacks and won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Now it is time for Miller to become a complete NFL linebacker.

Miller, the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2011, showed terrific promise as a run-stopper last season even though he was taken out of the game on some rushing downs. The Broncos have been happy with Miller's progress this summer.

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
AP Photo/Jack DempseyNot content to be a one-dimensional pass-rusher, Von Miller works at improving all aspects of his game.
“Absolutely, he is coming on as a complete player,” Denver head coach John Fox said of his prized defender early in camp. “He showed signs last season. He’s already very good in everything he does.”

Fox credits Miller’s development to a full offseason program. The lockout robbed Miller of that time as a rookie.

A 3-4 edge rusher at Texas A&M, Miller came to Denver with little experience in Denver’s traditional 4-3 defense when it came to pass coverage. Yet, the Broncos, who considered about five defensive players with the first pick of the Fox-John Elway era, fell in love with Miller’s play on film, his combine and workout sessions, and his personality. That combination outweighed Miller’s lack of experience in coverage and against the run.

Denver really likes Miller's work ethic, his self-analysis and his desire.

“He really wants it bad,” Denver cornerback Champ Bailey said. “He wants to be one of the greats. That’s special about him. He is the most athletic linebacker I’ve seen since LaVar Arrington. (Bailey and Arrington played in Washington together from 2000 to 2003.) For some reason, LaVar couldn’t take it to the next level. But you can tell how bad Von wants it. He works hard on every aspect of being a linebacker. Some guys with his ability, you would just be happy to be a great pass-rusher because of the premium that is put on that aspect of his game. He just doesn’t want to set sack records. He wants to be a complete linebacker, and I think he will get there.”

Miller said Bailey is right. He doesn’t want to be known just as a sack master. He studies Ray Lewis and DeMarcus Ware and is impressed that they simply don’t want to do one thing well. They want to dominate in every facet. Miller thinks he can join that elite group at some point if he is never satisfied with himself.

When talking about his rookie season, Miller doesn’t sound impressed. Instead of his success, Miller (who was a major reason the Broncos' defense improved dramatically last season) is focused on cleaning up his mistakes.

“I had way too many mental mistakes,” Miller said. “I need to follow through more and finish plays. Make those sacks into forced fumbles. There is always more to do.”

Asked what he needs to work on the most, Miller simply says: “Stop making errors in all areas.”

Fair enough.

The Broncos’ coaches love that Miller feels the urgent need to become a complete player. They know they have a star on their hands. They love that Miller doesn’t act like one.

“Von Miller is a young player with a lot of talent that is only scratching the surface right now,” new Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “He could be phenomenal; he just needs to continue to work.”

What is Miller’s ceiling? How good can he become? I asked Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. whether he thinks Miller can become the game’s next well-rounded star at linebacker. His response was eye-popping. Williamson has been in NFL buildings. He knows scouting. He does not major in hyperbole. I’ve always found his analysis of players to be level-headed and without nonsense.

So when Williamson said “Miller’s ceiling is being the very best defensive player in the NFL and a Hall of Famer,” I didn’t take it lightly.

Added Fox: “The sky really is the limit. He can be as good as he wants to be, and Von wants to be really good.”

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN Oakland Raiders reporter

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