Christian Miller could be one of the steals of this year's NFL Draft
Corey Miller calls it the “Case for Christian.” The former NFL linebacker took to Twitter on Thursday, producing a roughly two-minute video explaining why he thinks his son, Christian Miller, is “the best outside linebacker in this year’s draft.”
“Six-four, 250, can run, has a 4.6 40-time, 38-and-a-half vert, 10-foot broad,” he said, rattling off Christian’s measurables. “But the brother can straight get after the quarterback, and this is a passing league now in the National Football League. They throw the ball all around.
“He can rush the quarterback, but he is the most complete linebacker. He can set the edge. He can play the run. He can play off the ball 3-4, 4-3 Sam linebacker. He can do all of that, and he can put his hand in the dirt and be a defensive end in nickel and in sub packages. There’s no more complete linebacker in this draft. This is why I think any team that passes on him, they’re making a huge mistake.”
Corey is a proud papa, so there’s an inherent bias to his argument. That being said, he knows a good linebacker when he sees one. He spent his first three seasons in the NFL lining up opposite of Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor and went on to carve out a nine-year career in the league himself.
That’s what makes this all a bit frustrating. Almost 30 years after he was selected by the New York Giants in the sixth round of the 1991 draft, the older Miller finds himself waiting on his son’s name to be called.
Thursday’s first round came and went quietly in the Miller household. Although, that was to be expected.
Despite a solid redshirt senior season at Alabama, Christian has been overshadowed by other pass rushers in this year’s class. The 6-foot-3, 247-pound linebacker led the Crimson Tide with 12 quarterback hurries while also recording 8.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss last season. However, a biceps injury that kept him out the majority of the 2017 season followed by a hamstring injury which sidelined him for last season’s national championship game have caused his draft status to take a hit.
Now, after seven edge rushers were selected in front of him during Thursday’s first round, Christian finds himself patiently waiting to disprove what he feels has become an unfair criticism over his injury history.
“People kind of create a narrative, especially without knowing all the facts,” Christian said. “Sometimes I see people saying I’m injury prone, and it’s not true. I never missed a practice at Alabama until my fourth year. It’s little things like that people don’t know.”
It was painful enough to lay down, much less walk. Christian still remembers hearing the pop in his left leg while chasing down Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray during the third quarter of last season’s Orange Bowl.
“Basically, I beat the tackle on an inside move. Kyler Murray was scrambling outside the pocket, and I tried to redirect. I probably got a little greedy trying to get the sack,” he recalled. “My leg swung out, and I heard the pop. I tried to keep going, but my leg gave out on me. I knew it was pretty serious. It was a pain I never felt before.”
Christian suffered a Grade 2 hamstring strain on the play and had to be helped toward Alabama’s locker room. The injury ultimately kept him out of the national championship game, putting an end to his college career. However, most don’t know how close the resilient linebacker came to an improbable return.
The typical recovery time for a Grade 2 hamstring strain is four to eight weeks. Christian describes his injury as a “Grade 2-plus,” meaning it should have taken him a bit longer to heal. Instead, he suited up on the sidelines as Alabama took on Clemson nine days later.
“At the time, I wanted to do everything in my power to help the team win,” Christian said. “I did everything I could to maybe give it a try and just manage it. The plan was originally to give it a test on a long drive or extended drive, but unfortunately, it didn’t happen.”
While Christian didn’t feature in Alabama’s 44-16 defeat to Clemson, his near recovery speaks to his resiliency. In fact, had he been able to return, it wouldn’t be the first time he defied the odds on an original diagnosis.
During Alabama’s 2017 season-opener, Christian tore his left biceps muscle while attempting a sack on Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois. That injury was originally deemed season-ending. However, Christian was able to return 10 weeks later in time to play in Alabama’s final three games, leading the Crimson Tide to a national title.
While the two setbacks have raised a few durability concerns, Corey believes his son’s ability to bounce back from injury is a much-needed attribute at the next level.
“Football is a violent sport, and what I’m looking for as a GM is someone who busts his tail when things do happen,” he said. “Things are going to happen. You’re going to twist an ankle or something like that. But I’d want a guy that has the determination that if and when that does happen he works his tail off to get back on the field. That’s what you have in Christian.”
Four months removed from his hamstring injury, Christian confidently states he’s back to 100 percent. While he elected not to run the 40-yard dash for scouts, he was able to register a 38.5-inch vertical at the combine and put on a good display in positional drills during Alabama’s pro day.
“If you saw him on the field doing drills, flipping his hips, pass dropping, things like that and pair that up with tape, I think you can tell that the guy can run,” Corey said. “We felt like that was the best decision for him in order for him to head into camp healthy and ready to go.”
“The tape doesn’t lie.”
That’s been the rallying cry from the Miller camp this offseason. If teams can get over Christian’s recent injury history, it’s hard to argue with the product he’s put on the field.
After adding nearly 40 pounds of muscle since joining Alabama as a four-star recruit in the Class of 2014, the once-lanky linebacker has transformed himself into the ideal edge rusher. Christian earned a 79.7 pass-rushing grade from Pro Football Focus, the highest among Crimson Tide linebackers.
"Miller does have some love from around the league,” NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said during a teleconference last week. “I think he’s a good player when he’s been healthy. He really had an impact on that group, on that front.
“Again, I have him kind of in that fourth-round range, maybe he could sneak into the third. I’d say kind of third to fifth is where you see him. A lot of push-pull pressure there, really good with his hands, really strong at the point of attack. Asking him to drop (into coverage), he’s a little stiff there. That’s going to be an effort for him. But he’s got some pass-rushing potential, and that’s why I think you’ll see him in the middle rounds.”
Christian spent the majority of his time at Alabama with his hand in the dirt as the Crimson Tide worked primarily out the nickel formation. However, his long, lean frame gives him more versatility than other pass rushers in this year’s class.
Christian has the speed and athleticism to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme or man the Sam linebacker position in a 4-3 formation. While he wasn’t asked to drop into coverage much during his college career, it’s worth noting that head coach Nick Saban felt confident experimenting with him at inside linebacker during fall camp last season as Alabama looked to build depth in the unit.
“My versatility really opens the door for me. I have a role with just about every team,” Christian said. 'I’ve got really good feedback, and I think they are on par with me that skill-wise I really am a first-round talent.
“It’s just the injury, unfortunately. It’s nothing major or anything that will affect me in the long run, but I did miss some time. Things happen, but I’m hearing some good things. The thing that I’m proud of is everybody is impressed with me off the field and the way I’ve gone about the process and the way I carry myself.”
Christian has also been revered for his leadership ability and was named a permanent captain by his fellow teammates this past season.
“I can’t say enough about the kind of person he is,” Saban said. “He’s graduating, doing internships, developing a career off the field, working hard to develop a career on the field. Always done everything we’ve asked him to do. I always think he’s a positive influence on his teammates. So, he’s an outstanding young man all the way around.”
The NFL Draft continues Friday with Rounds 2-3. Corey said plans to fly into Tuscaloosa, Ala., to take in the coverage with his son. Whether the night ends in celebration or serves as one final test of patience, the proud father is assured Christian’s future will be well worth the wait.
“I told him to enjoy it because it’s going to be special,” Corey said. “You don’t know if you’re going to be getting on a plane the next day, where you’re headed, what part of the country. It’s stressful, but at the end of the day you’re part of that 1 percent category that has a chance to play in the greatest game ever.”