For Zach Miller, making a decision on his football future could be as easy as waking up one morning over the holidays and deciding he has accomplished everything he can at Arizona State.
But the preseason All-America tight end knows that such a life-altering choice is rarely that simple. And as a result, after the regular season ends, Miller plans on spending some of his days — and perhaps a sleepless night or two — pondering whether or not to declare his eligibility for the NFL draft.
“I’m trying to put off thinking about it,” Miller, a junior, said earlier this week. “That’s not easy to do because I get asked about it all the time. But after the season is when I want to start talking about it.”
Should Miller decide to enter the draft — and, given the weak crop of senior tight ends, he could vault to the top of the board at that position — Saturday’s contest against UCLA will be his last home game for ASU, where he has compiled a sterling resume.
The 131 career receptions for 1,412 yards and 13 touchdowns only begin to tell Miller’s story. The 6-foot-5, 259-pounder possesses a prototype NFL build, soft hands and blocking ability that is perhaps unmatched in college football.
“Zach is as complete a player as I’ve been around,” Sun Devils coach Dirk Koetter said. “As great as (defensive end) Terrell Suggs was, he didn’t play special teams.
“Suggs could dominate a game. Zach isn’t always in a position to do that, but he does the dirty work someone has to do for you to win.”
Miller essentially plays three positions for ASU — tight end, H-back (who often lines up in the slot) and fullback. The Sun Devils’ reliance on the run game for much of this season has forced them to count heavily on Miller as a lead blocker, at the expense of his receiving numbers.
The added blocking responsibilities have “been fun,” said Miller, a graduate of Phoenix Desert Vista High School.
“I like being back there, kind of like a fullback, even though you are doing the same kind of blocking a tight end would do,” Miller said. “It feels good to hit linebackers and cut off defensive ends. You get in there and feel dirty.”
Also, he is on the kickoff return unit and serves as an upback in punt formation.
The overall job description results in a Miller that, at least to most ASU observers, has little left to add to his game as a collegian. Do NFL scouts feel the same way?
Mike Mayock, draft guru for the NFL Network, has not watched much tape of Miller because he has not yet decided to forego his senior year.
But he added that if Miller — as well as fellow juniors Greg Olsen of Miami and John Carlson of Notre Dame — come out, they could be high-round candidates.
“There is a hole at the top,” Mayock said.
Among the top senior tight ends are Scott Chandler of Iowa, Matt Spaeth of Minnesota and Joe Newton of Oregon State.
“Those guys are nice players, but if you are looking for a firstround tight end, he’s a guy who is 6-5, 255 and can run a 4.6 (40-yard dash) or better,” Mayock said.
“That’s not in this class. I don’t have one senior that I could say is a bona-fide first rounder. I don’t even think there is a highend second-rounder.”
Incidentally, Miller fits the typical physical parameters that Mayock describes for a firstround tight end.
Miller’s father, Tom — a regular attendee of ASU’s practices — is “compiling information” regarding the draft, Koetter said. After the Arizona game on Nov. 25, the Millers will file a draft-day projection request from the NFL’s underclassmen draft advisory council.
Zach Miller should get a response from the council by Christmas and must declare his intentions by Jan. 15.
“I’m sure agents have talked to Tom, and that is perfectly legal,” Koetter said. “I’ll make some calls to NFL people I know at the end of the season. A lot of it depends on team needs and what other tight ends are out there, and no one knows for sure right now.”
Koetter’s rule-of-thumb advice for an underclassman is that if he is likely to be taken in the first two rounds, he should declare his eligibility. Miller said his decision will be based on much more than his draft projection.
He has long dreamed of playing in a Rose Bowl, which will not happen this season. And he has long enjoyed playing with his older brother, Brent, a junior Hback for the Sun Devils.
“(The projection) will help me make a decision, but you can’t trust that thing all the way,” Miller said. “There are a lot of other factors that go into the decision. I won’t have a cutoff, thinking, ‘Well, I’ll go if this happens.’ I’ll go with what’s in my heart.”
Miller said he plans to talk to Todd Heap, the ASU tight end who declared for the 2001 draft after his junior year and is now a Pro Bowl performer. He hopes to seek counsel from ex-Sun Devils Andrew Walter and Derek Hagan, who entered the NFL after their senior seasons.
Until the end of the season, Koetter’s biggest concern regarding Miller is promoting his candidacy for first-team All-America status. Though he earned preseason honors, Miller ranks behind nine other Division I-A tight ends in receptions.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” Koetter said. “But because we have not been a great passing team all year, Zach does not have gaudy numbers receiving. I’m sure voters don’t study film to see how good of a blocker he is. I know that it’s mostly statistics driven.
“If there is a tight end in the nation that is doing all the things Zach is and as well as Zach is, that guy is a terrific player.”
Will Saturday be the final time that Miller displays his vast array of talents at Sun Devil Stadium? He is sincere when he says that he does not know.
Yet, should Miller decide there is nothing left for him to accomplish in Tempe, he will do so without regret.
“If this is my last game at home, I’ll be sad,” Miller said. “But a big part of life is that you have to move on.”
EXTRA POINTS: A day after being deemed probable for Arizona State’s game against UCLA on Saturday, wide receiver Terry Richardson did not practice on Wednesday.
Richardson has missed the last three games with a knee injury.
“He looked good on Tuesday, but he came to me before practice and told me he couldn’t go,” Koetter said. “We’ll see how he is (today).”
In other injury news, receiver/ cornerback Rudy Burgess (ankle) remains questionable for Saturday, and Koetter said cornerback Chris Baloney (leg) could return if ASU plays in a bowl game.