A Second Helping of Von Miller & the Aaron Curry Myth

Some men are born with great blog entries; others have great blog entries thrust upon them.

The latter is the case today.  One of our staunchest legionaries, Fat Man member NCM42, recently asked:

How much do Von Miller and Aaron Curry compare?

It's a great question.  Expect to hear it often, especially from fans whose team didn't select Miller.  

Implicit in this question is the fear that MIller won't live up to his billing as the #2 overall pick. That's because Aaron Curry, the 4th pick overall two years ago, hasn't become a dominante force in the NFL.

On the surface, the two players seem similar: both were freakishly athletic 3-4 outside linebackers; both were the can't-miss players of their drafts; both were considered low-character risks.  The most important correlation, however, is that they were both drafted by 4-3 teams to play the strong-side linebacker position, something neither had done before.

In short, the fear is that a position change could spell BUST, without using the letters O-A-K-L-A-N-D.  

The fear mongering has already begun.  Here's how WalterFootball saw the pick of Miller:

Let me make something clear - Von Miller can play in the 4-3. I never said he can't. What I did say was that his pass-rushing talents (his best attribute) would be wasted in the 4-3. In Denver's scheme, Miller can only rush on third down and second-and-long. He's going to have to learn how to play SAM otherwise. 

Now, this is all well and good if the Broncos could stop the run and force the opposition into obvious passing downs. But they couldn't last year, and they certainly won't be able to in 2011. Where are the defensive tackles? As my friend Hunter Ansley of DraftZoo.com joked on Twitter (@draftzoo), "Denver is going to look odd when they roll out a 2-5-4 defense that doesn't utilize any defensive tackles." 

The idea that 4-3 teams won't rush the passer on the first and second downs is a ridiculous notion of course--especially this Broncos version.  Dennis Allen, new defensive coordinator, comes from the Greg Williams school of blitzing.  This unit will begin blitzing once the bus doors open.

Let's put aside this debate for a moment, however, and get back to Miller  and Curry. 

The Measurables

It's true, Von Miller and Aaron Curry share a physical resemblance on film.  In many ways, you can't fault pundits for comparing the two.  Yet their physical differences are more than slight.  Let's take a look at the measurables of each from the NFL combine.

Measurable  Von Miller    Aaron Curry  
Height 246 254
Weight 6-feet-3 6-feet-2
Combine 40-Yard Dash 4.42 4.52
20-Yard Split 2.57 2.58
10-Yard Split 1.5 1.5
225 lb. Bench Press 21 25
Vertical Jump 37 37
Broad Jump 10-feet-6 10-feet-4
20-Yard Shuttle 4.06 4.51
3-Cone Drill 6.7 7.15

While both Miller and Curry are athletic--as shown by their similar vertical and broad jumps--Miller is clearly the super freak.  He's faster (40-yard dash), quicker (shuttle and cone drills), and leaner (even if by a few pounds).   Curry, though, is more powerful, as shown by his bench press numbers.  

The Tape

Miller's speed and Curry's power are clearly evidenced in the two videos below.   Both are sacks.  Both are from the interior of the line.  But watch how each utilizes their individual strengths to get there.

First, let's look at Curry's sack.

Curry utilizes his quickness to be sure, but instead making trying some move on the guard, he just bulls the guy over on his way to the quarterback.  It's impressive, but not something he's been able to get away with in the NFL.

Now let's take a look at Miller, on a somewhat similar play.

Miller, even when rushing the interior of the line, uses his superior quickness and speed to get to the quarterback.   In short, Miller wants no part of engaging linemen.  This is not to say that Curry could not do something similar.  Clearly, these two highlights were picked to demonstrate a specific point.  However, they elucidate the main difference between the two--speed.   

The question will be whether Miller's exceptional speed works at the next level.

Scouting Report

Coming out of college Aaron Curry was actually a more complete linebacker than Miller.  Take a look at what NFL draft scout had to say about Curry at the time:

Strongly-built with long arms to keep himself off offensive linemen when playing against the run. Very smooth in pass drops, staying low in his backpedal and getting into depth at the proper angles. Good hands for the interception, and can break up passes using his hands or a big hit over the middle. Plays the nine-technique very well, ripping off the tackle's block and getting to the ballcarrier on inside and outside runs. Also closes on the ball quickly when playing in the stack. Able to shed blocks and go through backs on blitzes. Will pop the fullback and create a pile to stuff inside runs.

Contrast this with their recent comments on Miller:

Miller's role in the A&M defense over the past three years has been fairly simple: get after the quarterback on almost every play...the highly-touted Texas recruit plays the "joker" position, a defensive end/rush linebacker hybrid spot at which he almost always was standing up at the nine-technique position outside the left or right tackle. Though some scouts will label him a one-trick pony as a pass rusher without great size, the increased use of the 3-4 base scheme in the NFL and his explosiveness off the edge could earn him a high draft slot.

The knock on Miller is a bit unfair because he was rarely asked to drop into pass coverage.   Further, his supposed inability to stop the run just isn't evidenced by the tape, as you can see from this Fat Man article last week.  Nevertheless, there is some truth in both of these scouting reports.  Miller is considered a pure speed rusher in the mold of a Derrick Thomas.  Curry was (and is) considered to be a multi-dimensional linebacker.  As Lions coach Jim Schwartz said of Curry, "He played an on-the-ball ‘Sam’ linebacker, which not a lot of people play anymore. You have to be really strong. But they also put him out in space … almost like a nickel back. Those are two almost mutually exclusive skill sets."

A 24-Month Bust?

Finally, even if we accept the notion that Miller and Curry are not as similar as they are portrayed, it's worthwhile to confront the idea that Aaron Curry is actually a bust.   Curry has been in the league for two years.  He's started 28 games, or less than two full seasons.  In his first season he notched 61 tackles and 2 sacks.  In his second, he reached 74 tackles and 3.5 sacks.  He also experienced a regime change between these years.  While these numbers aren't good enough for someone drafted #4 overall, the guy has developed into a solid starter.  Ryan Leaf he is not.   As Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. noted, perhaps Curry's multi-dimensional abilities have actually hurt his perception as a game changer:

In the end, the role he fits best is probably as a 3-4 SAM, a strong-side linebacker to play the run, do some blitzing and cover the tight end.  But of all the positions, that is the one that has the least value. He's a jack of all trades, master of none. It would do him some good to be put in a featured role and left there.

The debate then becomes one of perspective between someone who possesses multi-dimensional talent versus another with a particular talent that changes the outcome of games.  It's like choosing between a 5-tool baseball player who is decent in all categories or a home-run hitter who leads the lead in slugging percentage.  

Curry was drafted to be multi-dimensional, but lacks Miller's elite sack potential.  Unfortunately for Curry (who can't control where he was drafted), going #4 overall comes with inflated sack expectations.  The Broncos on the other hand, drafted Miller primarily due to his ability to rush the quarterback.   They believe he'll have no trouble in coverage if he's asked to do it (why the hell you would ever want a talent like Von Miller to drop into coverage is beyond me, but that's for another post).  He's also quick enough and strong enough, despite reports to the contrary, to handle the running game on first and second downs.

But make no mistake about it.  Miller's primary job in Denver won't change from college: kill quarterbacks.

If he doesn't kill them--or at least bloody Phil Rivers in the process--he'll have the label of "bust" thrust upon him soon enough.

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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