If the Saints Want a "Steal" at Wide Receiver in the Draft, Memphis WR Anthony Miller is the One
While the Saints are "set" at their two starting WR positions for the upcoming 2018 NFL season in a few more months from now, they still have one and possibly two more holes to fill at the position with the possible departure of Willie Snead via Free Agency and the previous departure of Brandon Coleman, who was not offered a new contract to return for a 4th season.
Yesterday at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, FL, Payton listed the WR position as a team "must", and said that the team expects it, specifically for the role as the "slot" receiver.
"Both B. Cole and Willie had played in that slot position. That sub position. But I'd expect us address that position either during this period of time or in the draft", Payton said to reporters.
The Saints have already been proactive in trying to address that need via Free Agency, by hosting Chicago Bears wide receiver Cameron Meredith on a visit last Saturday, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Meredith, 25, is a restricted free agent with the Chicago Bears, who offered him the low tender worth $1.907 million for 2018. If another team extends an offer sheet to Meredith, the Bears can match the offer, but they would receive no compensation if they let him leave.
It's unclear at the moment if Bears GM Ryan Pace is expected to match that offer, assuming that the Saints have even made one to Meredith (all indications seem to be that they already have, or intend to do so).
However, the Saints clearly intend to draft one and possibly two more WR's in next month's 2018 NFL Draft in Dallas, and it's more than likely that the Saints will focus specifically on getting a player who would play in the slot, but also would be equally capable of playing on the outside as well.
As we covered it previously here at Saints News Network: University of Maryland WR D.J. Moore appears to be the "perfect fit" for New Orleans with the #27 overall pick, should they choose to address it in Round 1 (click HERE to read).
However as we know, the Saints won't have an opportunity to address the position in Round 2 because they already traded that pick away last year to the 49ers for the chance to move up and select University of Tennessee RB and eventual 2017 NFL Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara.
Which means that the Saints won't be picking again following their first selection at #27, until the 91st overall pick in Round 3. By that time, some of the 2018 Draft Class's top talent at the WR position will already be long gone; although a few of them still might "fall" down the Draft Board and will be available.
By that point, the Saints likely would be looking to find a "steal", by getting a player with 1st Round talent but who's still sitting there nearly 2 rounds later, due to previous concerns such as size and injury history.
One such player who could end up fitting that description: University of Memphis WR Anthony Miller.
Miller did not participate at the Senior Bowl back in January or at last month's NFL Scouting Combine, because he’s been hobbled by a Jones fracture in his right foot, since the end of last season, which he injured in their 21-20 loss to Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl.
But he said he recently received medical clearance, has been sprinting for about a week and plans to run and catch passes at Memphis’ Pro Day on April 6th.
Miller — who is also a Memphis native — made the Tigers team as a "walk-on". He excelled in both football and track in high school, but was overlooked by schools once his prep career concluded.
But by the time his college career ended this past December, Miller finished his career as the Tigers’ all-time leading receiver, hauling in 96 passes for 1,462 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.
And those "eye-popping" numbers last year were the follow-up to his season before in 2016, when he put up nearly identical numbers of 95 catches, 1,434 yards, and another 14 touchdowns.
NDT Scouting NFL Draft Analyst / Expert Jon Ledyard says that Miller is the most well-rounded and nuanced route runner in this year's 2018 Draft Class (to see his incredibly detailed break-down and analysis of Miller's many impressive traits, then click HERE).
Miller represents a type of receiver that has succeeded in the NFL pretty consistently, as his ability to separate from man coverage and create throwing windows is among the best in the draft.
Ledyard also says that Miller is a very difficult WR to cover due to his ability to vary stride length and create crucial slivers of space in his route stem, showing the attention to detail in his patterns and releases to win at the next level.
He also notes that Miller also has terrific ball skills, and catches almost everything thrown in his vicinity. He’s tougher at the catch point than most 5-foot-11, 190-pound receivers. Miller is also well-built, consistently bouncing off tacklers after the catch and showing tremendous balance and creativity with the ball in his hands.
Most importantly: Ledyard adds that for whatever reason Miller isn’t mentioned among the top deep threats in the class, when the tape showed a player that constantly got open deep and made tremendous tracking adjustments to the ball.
Whether he was lined up as an outside receiver or in the slot, Ledyard says that Miller neutralized corners quickly with efficient footwork, and then used his speed and quick burst to gain separation with the ball in the air.
So that being the case, why would a player with this type of talent even still be available when the Saints pick in Round 3?
A handful of NFL scouts and front office personnel from around the league have expressed concern about the severity of Miller's Jones fracture injury, which refers to a break between the base and shaft of the fifth metatarsal bone of the foot. (The fifth metatarsal is the long bone on the outside of the foot, and it is connected to the smallest toe).
These fractures are typically treated without surgery using a cast, boot or hard-soled shoe. These fractures tend to heal within 6to 8 weeks, but until Miller actually sets foot back onto a practice field and shows everyone that there are no lingering affects, the concerns remain valid for now.
Additionally, many NFL teams out there that want their wide receivers to be a certain size, so a guy like Miller will not be high on their Draft Boards. Miller could also stand to benefit from adding some bulk to his light frame, so that he can withstand the punishment from hits that slot receivers tend to take in the NFL.
But given what it is that the Saints are looking for at the position, Miller certainly seems to fit the mold of what Sean Payton labeled as a "must" yesterday morning.
It will simply all come down to which team is willing to be the first one to take the chance on Miller at the earliest time; and he's been projected as high as the early part of Round 2 (in which case the Saints would have to trade up to get him) and as low as the end of Round 3 — right where the Saints are picking at #91 overall.
But this much is a fact: if he's still available atANYpoint after Round 1 when the Saints are on the clock, he will merit strong consideration from Jeff Ireland and company.