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Christian Miller gives the Panthers some much needed versatility in their pass rush

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The Panthers added another versatile edge rusher to their roster in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

The Carolina Panthers went into the 2019 NFL Draft looking to solve one of the 2018 team’s biggest problems — a severely anemic pass rush that failed to generate pressure on their opponents’ quarterbacks with any sort of consistency. After selecting Brian Burns with the No. 16 overall pick, the Panthers used their next two selections — Nos. 47 and 100 — to address other pressing needs before circling back to their desire to add edge rushers to the roster.

Former Alabama edge rusher Christian Miller was on the board when the Panthers were on the clock at No. 115 overall, and Marty Hurney cashed in on the chance to add a player of Miller’s caliber to the roster. Was it the right decision? Only time will tell, but let’s take a look at what Miller can bring to the table for the Panthers to get an idea of what we should expect from him in 2019 and beyond.

Strengths and weaknesses

Like every prospect, Miller has some good and bad parts to his game. NFL Draft analyst Lance Zierlein believes that Miller is a ‘long, lean rush backer with above-average athletic traits that could serve him well as a pass rusher’ and that ‘teams could be a little gun-shy with Miller considering the talent he played alongside and his solo season of production’. He also adds that ‘What will be hard to ignore are his long arms, ability to attack the edge with speed and footwork to manufacture dangerous inside counters. He’s talented enough to earn his keep chasing quarterbacks, but he’ll have to gain strength and prove he can handle run duties in order to play every down.’

Strengths

- Long and athletic and continues to grow into his frame
- Quality get-off either standing or with hand in the ground
- Speed variance in his rush can lull tackles to sleep in their sets
- Effective usage of arm length
- Able to stick and stab tackles to maintain distance as a rusher
- Gets some shoulder turn up the rush arc to avoid being punched squarely
- Sudden, aggressive swats can clear tackle’s outside hand to soften edge
- Loose hips to pivot around the edge
- Capable closing burst
- Gets into run-blocking tackles with desired arm extension
- Above-average pursuit speed to the sideline
- Fluid to drop and cover backs headed out of the backfield

Weaknesses

- High-cut with thin legs
- Has added weight, but needs to put on more bulk and strength
- Lacks sand to anchor and can get manhandled by tackles
- Needs to ramp up his physicality to be able to play on early downs
- Unable to convert his speed into power as a rusher
- Can’t power through edges as a rusher and gets forced wide
- Doesn’t have base strength to balance against redirect blocks

~Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

Pass rush ability

Justin Melo of DraftWire interviewed Miller a week before the draft, and one of Miller’s answers that described his ability as a pass rusher stood out to me.

JM: What would you tell me about your pass rush arsenal?

CM: I feel like it’s pretty advanced. I feel like I have a great understanding of the art of pass rushing. I understand it as a process. It all begins with your get off. Hand usage and leverage are huge. You have to know when to counter back and when to throw certain moves. You have to know which counters work for you. It’s a combination of things. I would say that my understanding of these things is quite advanced. My arsenal is advanced. I feel like it’s going to translate very well to the next level. I have great hand usage. I use my hands a lot better than a lot of other guys in this draft. I say that in the most humble way possible. I play with violent hands.

My ability to bend has been underestimated throughout this process. I played in a scheme that’s very disciplined and I didn’t have a chance to always show off that full speed ahead and bend ability of mine. We were in a very disciplined scheme here at Alabama. I definitely have that ability and I think it shows up on film when I had the opportunity to do so. I think my game is very diverse. I have a lot to offer and I think my skill set will translate well to the next level.

I like seeing that confidence in his ability, and I especially like the line ‘I play with violent hands’. There’s a lot to like about this kid, y’all.

Final thoughts

Erik Evans from Roll ‘Bama Roll believes Miller is one of the most talented rushers from this year’s draft class, but he’s a very raw prospect and could be a gamble for the Panthers due to injuries he sustained in college (more on this later today).

As a physical specimen, Christian Miller absolutely looks the part, that’s for sure. He may not be the raw athlete that Terrell Lewis is, but he is a more refined pass-rusher and has a broad arsenal of techniques to make up for a lack of elite quickness — from a surprisingly powerful chop to the use of his hands to a stutter-step that freezes linemen to an inside swim move that is highly effective. He was the Tide’s most complete edge rusher in 2018 for a reason.

Most scouts agree he has a lot of room to grow; he’s still a raw prospect despite leaving as a fifth-year player. But, and it is a huge one, his injury history is going to rightly scare off a lot of teams. He already doesn’t have the best straight line speed, and that nagging hamstring injury from the Orange Bowl was still sticking around for the both the Combine in February and again in the Tide’s March Pro Day. Before that, he suffered a season-ending torn bicep in the Tide’s 2017 season opener.

If — and granted, this is a gigantic, enormous if — Miller can stay healthy and have consistent success at the next level, then the Panthers could end up with the biggest steal of the entire 2019 draft class. We’re obviously in wait and see mode for that, but it would be nice for things to work out that way, don’t you think?

What are your thoughts on Christian Miller? Are you glad the Panthers took a gamble on him in the fourth round? Do you think it will pay off for them, or do you think Miller will be a wasted pick? Share your thoughts with us!