The Arizona Cardinals have put a premium on speed during the Steve Keim-Bruce Arians era, which is why the team's sixth round pick of Southeastern Louisiana cornerback Harlan Miller came as a surprise.
Miller enjoyed a fantastic career with the Falcons and earned All-America recognition during each of his final two seasons, but Miller's draft stock took a hit when he ran a 4.65 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
Despite a tape that reveals Miller's ability to change directions well and burst out of his backpedal, NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks said Miller fell into the sixth round because of an underwhelming combine performance.
"When he (Miller) put that 4.65 40 up, people cooled on him," Brooks said. "But prior to that, when you watched him at the Senior Bowl, you saw a talented player... You like what you saw on tape, it's just the athleticism made him a hard sell."
Though Miller will face adversity in his quest to make the Cardinals' 53-man roster, there are a number of qualities that stand out when we turned on his tape that make the corner a strong candidate to compete for a spot.
- Miller was the second cornerback the Cardinals selected in the 2016 draft after picking Brandon Williams out of Texas A&M in the third round. Even though Williams was drafted three rounds before Miller, we believe it's Miller who possesses a more developed skill set that can help the Cardinals out in the short term. Williams is a raw athlete with freakish athleticism, natural flexibility and elite speed, but he's also a player who will need time to reach his full potential. Williams has a high ceiling, whereas Miller probably won't develop into a starting corner because he doesn't have top end speed. Nevertheless, Miller can become a contributor for the Cardinals as an extra corner or rotational player because he possesses a refined knowledge of the position.
- There's an interesting similarity between Miller and fifth round draft pick Marqui Christian as both players come from small schools and both have fantastic natural instincts at their positions. Miller is the rare corner with a sub 185-pound frame that performed well against the run in college, and he has great footwork when pursuing ball carriers. Miller is careful not to overrun lanes on perimeter plays like quick screens, and he moves side-to-side with impressive agility. Some corners like Williams have a natural tendency to fly up to the line of scrimmage on quick-hitting perimeter plays to satisfy an assignment, and these players often get caught overrunning the play. For Miller, this isn't as much of a problem, as he gives himself the proper time and space to make tackles.
- Another part of Miller's game that really stands out are his ball skills. There are times on film when receivers created a yard or two of separation from Miller, but he makes up for this by attacking a receiver's hands as they attempt to catch a pass. Miller is quite technical in this regard as well, as he uses his inside hand to deny a pass from entering a receiver's hands while keeping his outside hand free. When possible, Miller got both hands on the football and he has one nice highlight clip in which he stole the ball away from a receiver who probably should have made the catch.
- Despite a slow 40-time, Miller has strong re-directional abilities and a smooth burst out of his backpedal. Right now, it's a lot more difficult to complete a slant route against Miller than it is against Williams because Miller anticipates receivers' movements by reading their hips. Williams played too much of last season watching receivers make their breaks and then reacting, whereas Miller reacts to movements right away. Miller doesn't have the same type of quick-twitch burst Williams does, but he's smooth in transition and works from a backpedal to a sprint nicely. Once Miller does change direction, it doesn't take him long to reach full speed.
- The main question mark surrounding Miller is whether or not he has the speed to develop into a serviceable NFL corner. Miller has the man coverage skills and the technical abilities to dominate players at the FCS level, but just as it is for other Cardinals draft picks like Christian and Cole Toner, the jump from the level of competition Miller played against to the opponents he'll face in the pros is going to create challenges.
There's a lot to like in Miller, especially considering the Cardinals found him on the board in the sixth round. For a team that needs a dependable third cornerback behind Patrick Peterson and Justin Bethel, Miller can provide depth in nickel or dime packages and the Cardinals can come up with creative ways to maximize his skill set. Miller is a ball hawk who plays with an edge, and he's the type of player who might see the field before Williams. Though proper coaching and continued development could eventually turn Williams into an every down player and starter, we think Miller actually has the potential to address more immediate concerns.