As we look at the young talent on the Panthers defense there’s one name that often gets left out of the conversation, and that’s edge rusher Christian Miller.
After an injury-plagued, mostly under-the-radar rookie season in 2019 he opted out in 2020 in what he called an “emotional and extremely tough decision for me but one that I ultimately feel is the right and safest decision for me and my family.”
Miller returning to the fold could be the wildcard that adds depth on the edge, a spot that’s often listed as a position of need for the Panthers as they prepare to head into free agency and the draft. Or Miller could regress after being out of football for the last year and just fade away. He’s perhaps the team’s biggest mystery as Carolina looks to build out its roster.
When the Panthers selected him with the No. 115 pick in 2019, I was excited. I don’t follow college football closely nor do I break down tape of college prospects before the draft, but I liked what I read about Miller after he was selected. PFF reported he had the fifth-best pass-rush productivity rate among all college edge rushers. Walter Football ranked him as the No. 8 outside linebacker prospect in the draft. I was intrigued that a 245-pound edge rusher had a 38.5-inch vertical.
Off the field, I was impressed with the fact that at Alabama he was voted team captain as a fifth-year senior and earned a Master’s degree in sports business management. I liked learning that he inherited his football pedigree from his father, Corey Miller, who had a nine-year NFL career. Christian Miller seemed to check all the boxes for a fourth round pick with high upside.
His 2019 rookie season got off to a slow start though as coach Ron Rivera leaned heavily on veterans as he tried to save his job. Miller played just 66 defensive snaps through the Panthers first five games. He had a standout performance in a Week 3 win over the Arizona Cardinals with two sacks on a season-high 24 defensive snaps. But just as he was starting to get things rolling, Miller injured his ankle in Week 5 and was sidelined until Week 12. He played 14 defensive snaps in Week 12 and 11 snaps the following week before being sidelined for the rest of the season.
His rookie season looks about right for a fourth round rookie playing under the Rivera regime: Seven games, 91 snaps, 2.0 sacks, three tackles.
It will be more than interesting to see how sharp Miller is when he returns to camp. Perhaps a season off to let his body recover and to deal with the personal matters of the pandemic is exactly what he needed. He could come back more prepared to contribute in 2021 than he did as a rookie. On the other hand, perhaps he’s lost half a step, will struggle to shed blockers, and finds himself lagging teammates who have already spent a full year playing under Matt Rhule’s system.
I’m essentially counting Christian Miller as an extra fourth round pick in 2021. He showed in 2019 he can make a roster and even make a little noise when he’s on the field, but a lot has changed since he last donned a Panthers jersey. He might be surprisingly good or he could be a major disappointment. Nobody really knows at this point, which puts him right in the same boat as this year’s upcoming rookie class.
If Christian Miller can contribute in 2021, he’ll be found money for the Panthers and add yet another piece in a young defense with tantalizing upside.
What do you expect from Christian Miller in 2021?
This poll is closed
Regular rotational player
Limited reserve/special teams role
Doesn’t make the roster