(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)
New to QB List, we’ll be taking a look at the profiles of NFL rookies and breaking down their college tape to get a better understanding of their skillset and how it will translate to the NFL and your fantasy teams, both redraft, and dynasty. This will be an ongoing series where I’m hoping to cover all the relevant rookie players, and I encourage you to comment below and let me know which rookie you would like to see profiled next! Let’s get started
Anthony Miller (WR, Chicago Bears)
Miller is listed at 5 foot 11, 203 pounds which is on the smaller side for an NFL receiver, yet it didn’t stop him from dominating the college level at the University of Memphis where he was one of the most productive WR’s in the entire country both in 2016 and 2017. Here are his college stats:
His story is pretty endearing and if you haven’t checked it out, I recommend you do so here! He was a walk-on at Memphis after not receiving any scholarship offers out of high school, he redshirted in 2013 earning scout player of the year on offense, he then suffered a season-ending injury in pre-season in 2014 before finally getting a chance in 2015. He really broke out in 2016 though as he finished 10th in the country in catches, 9th in receiving yards, and 9th in TDs, all of which were Memphis school records that were previously held by 4-time pro-bowler Isaac Bruce. Those totals in 2016 accounted for 31.4% of the team’s receptions, 36.2% of the team’s receiving yards, and 41.2% of the team’s receiving TDs, which on a Memphis team that ranked 12th in team passing yards and 11th in TDs, is super impressive from a market share standpoint.
As you can see in the table above, he managed a pretty great encore by improving across the board including smashing his own receiving school TD record and reaching 18 which led the entire country. His 1462 yards were 3rd best in the country only to Biletnikoff winner James Washington (Oregon State) now of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cedrick Wilson (Boise State) now of the Dallas Cowboys, and Miller’s 96 receptions ranked 5th best. His efficiency is perhaps just as impressive as the raw totals as Miller posted a 64% catch rate along with a 15.2 yards catch. And despite Memphis as a team improving to 6th in passing yards and 3rd in TDs, Miller’s market share held fairly steady with 31.3% of the team’s receptions, 33.6% of the team’s receiving yards, and 46.2% of the team’s receiving TDs. Anyone concerned about the level of competition that he faced at Memphis should look at his last 3 years against “Power 5” schools:
Now that we’ve looked at the numbers, let’s see how he looks on tape:
Okay, the first thing you notice is the explosive ability off the snap, this play is a great example as he got right into the defensive back’s face in a hurry before freezing him with a stutter step fake inside and then blowing by him outside which gave him the separation to catch a deep pass for a TD.
This play really highlights his after the catch ability, turning a poor throw on a screen-play that he had to adjust to into a first down with defenders all around. Miller averaged 6.9 yards after the catch across his 3 college seasons.
This play is a great example of Miller’s polished route-running skills. You can see the timing was perfect and there was a nice hard cut which gave him a ton of separation. Note that the three gifs highlight Miller making plays in all 3 areas phases of the passing game!
Now one of the knocks on Miller is his 5 foot 11 frame and how he’ll be able to handle bigger and stronger defensive backs, so let’s take a look at how he does in contested catch and jump ball situations:
These gifs I think show that Miller won’t be held back by his height much at all as you see him making plays all over the field with defenders all around. The first two gifs really highlight Miller’s catch radius and the 2nd one is particularly notable for the adjustment to a poorly thrown ball and the willingness to take a hit to make the play on a 3rd and 5. The last two gifs really show how well Miller tracks the deep ball, and the last one is a good example of how he is able to highpoint effectively in the last one to secure a TD over the defender in the back of the end zone.
Oh and he’s also capable of this:
Pro Football Focus charged Miller with an 11.1% drop rate which ranked 94th among 133 qualifying WRs in the NCAA last season, but I really didn’t see any concern about his hands in the tape that I watched and I think the gifs above highlight how effective he is catching the ball with his hands, both close and away from the body. He also notably ranked in the 87th percentile in terms of hand size with 10″ hands which is atypical for someone his height and certainly helps him secure more targets.
Looking at Miller’s fantasy potential, I am quite high on him both short and long-term and think he will be relevant in both re-draft and dynasty leagues. He combines a very impressive statistical profile as one of the best WRs in the country the last two years, while also passing the eye test with his speed, acceleration, and advanced route running skills along with his ball skills. His tape speaks for itself, he’s clearly one of the best WRs in the draft class and I think he’s in a good situation in Chicago to produce. Miller lined up all over the field at Memphis including out wide, in the slot, and even in the backfield at times and I think the Bears will utilize him in a similar fashion. He’s currently projected to be the #2 or #3 WR in an ascending offense opposite of a solid #1 WR in Allen Robinson who should open up room. The Bears are also full of deep threats in Robinson (career 14.1 YPC and 17.5 YPC in his breakout 2015 season) and Taylor Gabriel (career 13.8 YPC and 16.5 YPC in his breakout 2016), and that leaves Miller and Trey Burton to soak up the short and medium area targets where Miller should thrive thanks to his burst and agility and route running expertise. Even if Miller ends up playing a slot role most frequently this year, 5 of the top 15 WRs in PPR points a year ago ran 43+% of their routes from the slot which shows that slot WRs can be valuable in fantasy.
Miller has also been one of the biggest stories from training camp across the league, standing out consistently with impressive catches and separation skills that have led to big gains. As an older prospect that will turn 24 in October, Miller is should be ready to contribute right away and I believe that he can in this up and coming Bears offense. For dynasty players, he should be considered in the 1st round of rookie drafts, and note that his closest comparable according to playerprofiler.com is Victor Cruz formerly of the New York Giants.