This post is part of a continuing series in which we break down 13 2011 NFL Draft prospects - our Baker's Dozen - that should interest the Buffalo Bills. Keep up to date on our Baker's Dozen series here.
The Buffalo Bills transitioned to a 3-4 defense in 2010. The lack of personnel to fit the scheme forced Chan Gailey and defensive coordinator George Edwards to play more 4-3 defense as the year wore on. While GM Buddy Nix will continue to draft personnel for the 3-4 defense, Gailey has said that the team will run a multiple front defense. The hiring of Dave Wannstedt, historically a 4-3 coach, reinforces the point. I expect Buffalo to run three to four variations of their defense. Here's how Texas A&M senior Von Miller would fit in.
This is the base 3-4 defense employed by members of the Bill Parcells coaching tree. This defense is very stout when the three defensive linemen are capable of playing two-gap assignments, but is vulnerable to two-tight end offenses.
3-4 Over (also known as the 4-3 Over)
This defense is effective at penetrating and disrupting the offense, but can be run against effectively by teams that can rush with power.
This is a difficult defense to play against when run effectively, as seen in New York and Philadelphia. Effective West Coast or possession-passing teams that can protect the quarterback can beat this defense.
Von Miller at OLB in the Bullough-Fairbanks 3-4 Defense
While not the only position Miller can play, this is his best position. With the offensive tackle covered by the end, Miller is playing versus air and is most able to make impact plays. The offensive tackle can pass the end off to the guard and then block Miller. This is a battle that Edwards will take all day, as most tackles can't kick slide fast enough to reach Miller and his explosiveness off the line of scrimmage. Miller versus a back is a mismatch in favor of the defense. Just from this position alone, Miller is a force that the offense must account for on every snap. Adding to his value, Miller proved during the Senior Bowl that he can handle coverage responsibilities as well.
Miller at OLB in the 30 Over Defense
The "Jack" outside linebacker in Buffalo's scheme puts his hand on the ground and positions himself as a de facto defensive end. While lined up in the Jack outside linebacker spot, this position offers the same benefits for Miller as lining up at outside linebacker in the base 3-4: rush opportunities. When thinking about Miller's impact from this position, think of a shorter DeMarcus Ware with better coverage skills.
Miller at outside linebacker in a 46 Defense
While Miller is still playing outside linebacker with similar responsibities, this position puts him against the tight end. Edwards needs to use this formation with the tight end in mind. Heath Miller repeatedly put Clay Matthews on his back in the Super Bowl, and would do the same versus Miller unless he was kept wide, and moving.
Miller at defensive end in a 46 Defense
If Edwards chooses to shift the front from a 3-4 to a 46 away from Miller, he's got the ability to put his hand in the dirt and use speed to the outside of the tackle, though this obviously isn't an ideal run down formation.
Miller at Weakside Outside Linebacker in a 46 Defense
This is a variation-type defense that would require personnel adjustments. This would work when the scheme required a spy versus the quarterback, a la Matthews in the Super Bowl. Miller proved in the Senior Bowl that fast quarterbacks can't outrun him, as he hunted down a gazelle in the form of a scrambling Colin Kaepernick and brought him to the ground fairly easily.
Miller is one of the best pass rushing outside linebacker prospects in years. He has an elite first step, naturally coordinates his hands and feet (very similar to Bruce Smith in this regard), is more powerful than his size suggests, and has wide receiver speed. If kept on the edge of the defense, he's a nightmare for the offense.
Strictly schematically, no matter what front Edwards calls, Miller's presense forces the offense to slide blocking protections to him, freeing up other defenders. While he'll never be a great run defender, the defense can live with him just holding even. In the end, Miller's ability to force blocking protections to him, and beat them anyway, makes him a dominant scheme fit.