"Making the Cut"
As the Arizona Cardinals begin their quest to cut the team's roster size from 90 to 53 by the end of the preseason, we're taking a look at the key players at each position group and determining their odds of making the final cut.
Age: Miller: 22, Prater: 26
Experience: Miller: Rookie season, Prater: 5th NFL season
Contract status: Miller: 2016-$479,499, 2017-$569,499, 2018-$659,499, $749,501, Prater: 2016-$700,000
2015 season quick review: Miller was one of the top cornerbacks in all of the FCS last season at Southeastern Louisiana before parlaying his success into an invitation to the Senior Bowl. Against better competition, Miller held his own and caught the eyes of the Cardinals, who were willing to overlook a slower than average 40-yard dash time for a defensive back. Prater spent the 2015 season with three different organizations including the Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos. Despite being signed by three different teams, Prater only appeared in two games total last season and never saw meaningful playing time. After the Broncos released him in December, the Cardinals elected to sign Prater to a futures contract this offseason.
Projected roster status: Prior to the start of the NFL Draft, head coach Bruce Arians warned the Cardinals' roster was so deep it would be difficult for the team's late-round draft picks to contend for a roster spot. As Arizona's sixth round and final selection in the 2016 Draft, Miller is prepared to put Arians' claim to the test as some draft experts believe he could wind up being a diamond in the rough. Miller's chances of making the team are probably much higher than Prater's as the Cardinals would probably give priority to a draft pick over a player with a futures contract, but if Prater outperforms the other cornerbacks battling for a roster spot, Arizona is in "win now" mode and will almost certainly take the player who can help immediately. If concerns over Miller's speed don't arise during fall camp, we think he's actually more technically skilled than third round selection Brandon Williams and we could envision a scenario where Miller ends up receiving more playing time than Williams early in their careers.
Projected depth chart status: Now that the Cardinals have added veteran corner Mike Jenkins through free agency, there's a logjam in the middle of the depth chart. Behind Patrick Peterson, every spot is up for grabs and the depth chart may even be fluid into the early weeks of the season. While it's assumed Justin Bethel has the inside track on the other starting job, Arians and general manager Steve Keim don't play by assumptions. Spots two through four on the depth chart will be fiercely contested, and we could see Miller make a push for one of the final two spots if he performs well in camp. As for Prater, it's unlikely he would be able to climb much higher than the fourth spot on the depth chart, and we think both Cariel Brooks and Asa Jackson have a better chance of making the Cardinals' final roster.
Position group analysis: As we've mentioned in previous pieces on the Cardinals' cornerbacks, the position group is among the most crowded on the roster and the competition will be among the most interesting to follow as camp rolls along. The Cardinals' draft selections, acquisitions and interest levels in outside cornerbacks sends a clear message the team believes it must improve at this position, and initially, it will be difficult to compensate for the loss of Jerraud Powers. Though Williams or Miller may turn out to be a better corner in the long run, it's unlikely either player could come in and produce at a comparable level during the first few weeks of the regular season. That's why the signing of Jenkins makes things interesting, because the Cardinals now have Peterson, Bethel and Jenkins in the fold and all seem like natural fits for the final roster. If Jenkins doesn't end up panning out, a player like Brooks who impressed in last year's preseason as well as offseason training activities could make a strong push for a roster spot. Add in the two rookies in Williams and Miller and consider the fact the Cardinals have traditionally kept four corners on the roster under Arians and the numbers game begins to look even more complicated. Ultimately, cornerback is a position where camp battles will determine who makes the final squad, and it will be a fascinating competition to watch.
Moving forward: The fates of Miller and Prater within the Cardinals' organization might be drastically different when comparing the players to one another. On one hand, there's Miller, who the team used a sixth round draft pick on this year and who should have multiple years to develop within the Cardinals' organization whether it be on the active roster or on the practice squad. On the other hand, there's Prater, a journeyman who has spent time with six different organizations since being drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2012. While Prater was actually taken earlier in his respective draft than Miller, the Iowa product was placed on injured reserve in training camp and never became part of the Bengals' long-term vision. For Miller, missing the final roster might not prove much of a setback, as he could always end up on the Cardinals' practice squad and develop under the guidance of an NFL coaching staff. For Prater, time is running out, and it's unlikely Arizona would offer a practice squad spot to a player who already possesses five years of NFL experience. As the players move forward, Miller has a number of advantages working in his favor, but both players will need to come to camp with something to prove because of the level of competition the team anticipates at cornerback.
Overall value: While Miller is slated to make less money over the course of the season than Prater (that's assuming both make the final roster, which is a slim possibility), Miller possesses exponentially more value to the Cardinals' franchise because of his status as a late round draft pick. The Cardinals have had success with sixth round selections under Keim, most notably with Andre Ellington, and having a late round pick turn into a consistent producer bodes well for a franchise for a number of reasons. A player like Miller having success would assure the scouting department of its value, it would add depth to the team's draft class and in turn, the roster, and most importantly, it would come at a minimal cost to the franchise. As a sixth round pick, Miller isn't receiving Robert Nkemdiche-type money, and he's not even slated to make more than $750,000 in any of the four years on his contract. So if Miller does pan out and contribute consistently, he stands to become one of Arizona's top players from a cost-production standpoint.