As you’ve probably heard by now, the Carolina Panthers selected Alabama edge rusher Christian Miller in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft (No. 115 overall). I reached out to our friends at Roll ‘Bama Roll to get their thoughts on Miller and how he may fit in Carolina, and Erik Evans was kind enough to answer my questions. You can find our Q&A session below.
1. What are Miller’s strengths and weaknesses, and how do you think he could help the Panthers’ defense in 2019?
Strengths: Pro-Bowl potential (and that’s not our read, either; that’s from some scouts). He has a wide array of pass-rushing techniques to make up for a lack of elite quickness — surprisingly powerful chop, uses his hands well with a lot of power behind it, a stutter-step that freezes linemen, an inside swim move that is highly effective, etc. He also has a lot of room to grow and improve. He was a fifth-year player, but because of the Tide’s depth chart early in his career and a season-ending injury in 2017, you’re getting a player with not many miles: just 18 starts and only 27 meaningful games played.
Weaknesses: There have been two main knocks on Miller, and they’re both generally true. One, is his lack of elite top-end speed. He doesn’t have the best straight-line speed. He plays faster than his measurables indicate, and gets off the ball well though. Like his hands and rushing moves, snap anticipation is one way he’s made up for it. That is largely related to the other thing he will absolutely need to work on: narrowing his arc. He had a tendency to take a broad arc when rushing around the end, and that simply won’t cut it on Sundays. It’s likely all technique too and something that can be coached out at the next level. As of today, he is more effective freezing his man off the line, using his hands, and then working inside or out. That wide arc has definitely affected his speed rush. Both can be improved, and fixing the latter will greatly impact the other.
2. Miller is considered an ‘edge’ player. Do you think he is more suited as a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker?
Miller is definitely better suited as a pure 3-4 outside linebacker. In Alabama’s scheme, he was accustomed to playing behind two-gap linemen, and that has gave him a lot of freedom to do what he does best. He’s competent in the running game, but that’s not why he’s being drafted. He has the discipline to play the 6-tech, to be sure, but his lack of size (just 240) and elite athleticism doesn’t make him as well-suited for a 7/9 player. A guy like Jared Allen, he’s not.
3. He missed a lot of time due to injury while at Alabama. Should the Panthers be concerned about him being ‘injury prone’ or were they more of the ‘freak injury’ variety?
We’ll go ahead and put questions three and four together: injuries and draft position. As a Red Shirt Junior, Miller suffered a freak injury, when a player landed on his arm and tore his bicep. That is a season-ender and a long rehab ahead of him. However, he was mended by the 2018 season, so that does not appear to have limited him long-term, especially his power. Then, he had a hamstring injury on December 29, in the College Football Playoff semifinals against Oklahoma. It was bad enough to keep him out of that game...and then the next game...and then the Combine...and he was still limited during Alabama’s Pro Day in April. That tells you that it was either a significant injury or that he is a slow healer. For a pass rusher, neither are what you want to see.
4. The Panthers drafted him in the fourth round. Do you think they got a good value there, or did they overdraft him?
That said, he has so much potential and already has so many polished skills. If he can heal properly and if he can stay healthy, the sky is limit for Miller. This could wind up being a decade-long presence on a defense. That said, a fourth round selection is hardly a big risk either (it’s not like we’re talking Kyler Murray or anything.) If his body simply cannot handle it or he never makes it all the way back, there is little risk here for the Panthers — a few hundred grand and then all sides move on in a season or two. The tremendous potential payoff is simply too great to pass up on with Miller still on the board in the middle rounds. And, if it does work out? Then Carolina gets a helluva’ player on the cheap for an entire rookie deal.
5. Which parts of his game do you think will best translate to the NFL? Which parts will he need to work on the most?
Besides his physical skills, Miller is also very coachable, very savvy, and has worked within his physical limitations. For instance, we’ve touched on how well he reads the snap. It won’t show up on film, but that he has managed to develop a nice tool kit despite having four position coaches in five seasons speaks to his coachability. I think you see everything on display — his complete arsenal of brains and brawn and speed and skills — when he absolutely smoked Cody Ford in the Orange Bowl. He squared up showing a bull rush, got the tackle back on his heels, ducked his head underneath Ford’s hands, narrowed his arc, and then turned on the jets to get a sack. That was A+ work against the most athletic lineman in this year’s draft class and against the fastest player on the field. That is what he can do when he’s at 100%, and we wish him all the best.
Erik’s final thoughts
It’s pretty funny — we actually covered four out of five of these in our draft profile of Miller. He was by far the most polished of a thin Alabama edge-rushing group. And, when he got injured in the second half of the Orange Bowl, his impact was immediate: he had disguised a lot of sins in a rebuilding Alabama defense. He’s not the pure athlete that a guy like Terrell Lewis may be, but lacking elite speed, that required that he develop a lot of tools that you don’t necessarily see in a college player. That he is not a one-trick pony relying on raw speed, it has made him a better player than most college edge rushers who test off the charts at the Combine. That potential alone makes him one of the most intriguing prospects of the draft.
What do you think, Panthers fans? Do you like the Christian Miller pick? Why or why not?