On Saturday, I threw a curveball at y’all.
After talking up rookie fifth-round pick Tyler Johnson when he was drafted and finding third-year pass catcher Justin Watson’s tape to be better than average, I selected Scotty Miller to win the team’s coveted WR3 job in last week’s PR Roundtable.
Miller played just 177 snaps last season, but in those limited reps he produced plenty of big plays, including averaging 15.4 yards per catch on just 13 receptions. One of those catches went for a score, and two other opportunities were extremely close (down at the half-yard line, touchdown ruled an illegal touch after barely going out of bounds before the catch).
If you’re wondering how 177 snaps and 13 catches is enough to feel good about a guy being on the field for 50-70% of your offensive snaps, it’s a fair question. There is plenty of unknown for all of the Bucs WR3 options, but one thing that is known about Miller is his speed. He ran a 4.36 40 at his pre-draft pro day, and he plays just as fast on the field. That kind of speed opens up a ton of options for him as a route runner.
The boundary safety is late to flip and run, and Miller races right past him for six. He made defenses wince consistently on this deep over route, as his speed to get on top of deep safeties and challenge them after aligning on the opposite side of the field was a real weapon for the Bucs’ passing attack.
Yes, Miller should be more aware of where he is on the field here, but man, he absolutely toasts the Seahawks boundary safety, who is late to see him entering the zone. Also a terrific sliding finish in the end zone for what would have been a touchdown if not for the going-out-of-bounds part.
Safeties gotta be ready, man. If not, they could look very silly, very quickly thanks to Miller’s acceleration.
But Miller doesn’t just win as a receiver because he can run by opponents. It’s actually his ability to use his speed to open up the rest of the route tree that makes him such an intriguing player. Even if Miller were just a one-trick pony in the Bucs’ arsenal, he would probably still see the field a good bit, but because the Bowling Green product has shown the ability to sell speed and open cornerbacks up in his route-running, his arrow could be pointing up.
Panthers cornerback Ross Cockrell is retreating vs. Miller’s speed here, opening up the window for the post throw on the in-breaking route. Because Miller is able to sell speed off the line of scrimmage (burst out of his stance, hard vertical push, pads out over his toes on the release), he achieves separate in his route break. That’s taking a top-tier trait and building on it as a receiver.
Again, Miller gets a great vertical push off the snap, but the opposing corner doesn’t give much ground with safety help over the top. Still, Miller breaks off his route so suddenly that he is able to create separation and make a great sideline catch at the marker. Miller’s ability to snap his patterns off without losing much speed in his breaks is a great trait to have when working with a timing and accuracy quarterback like Tom Brady.
Not quite the vertical push on this catch, but still a crisp route break and good hands to finish outside of his frame at the boundary. Miller has a suddenness to him that is very reminiscent of Cole Beasley in Buffalo. If he’s working against off coverage, he can be deadly at the top of the route.
Miller has had some success against soft press or press coverage, typically from reduced splits that allow him to access a two way go in his release. I wouldn’t want to play him as a boundary ‘X’ outside the numbers, as most outside cornerbacks will be bigger, longer and stronger than his 5-9, 174-pound frame with 29 1/4-inch arms.
Miller is one of the smallest wide receivers in the league, and asking him to win like a big receiver (vs press on the outside, jump balls, red zone fades, slants, etc.) would be a bad idea. Shaq Griffin and Adoree Jackson both bodied him up when he tried to get vertical with an outside release against press. Limitations like that are why Miller is just a complementary piece in an offense and nothing more.
Still there are ways to get Miller open on nine routes without exposing him to press coverage at the line of scrimmage. Bruce Arians loves to utilize stacked releases to give his receivers free access into their routes off the snap. Miller eats up fellow rookie Chauncey Gardner-Johnson with pure speed on this rep, largely because the defensive back is unable to get a hand on him.
One thing Bruce Arians doesn’t do a ton of in his offense is get receivers manufactured, quick touches, but Miller flashed a bit in that regard in his limited opportunities last year. There are some traits worth exploring in the receiver screen game for Miller, who got a couple schemed looks during the 2020 season.
Good vision, decisiveness and quickness from Miller, who apparently earned enough trust as a post-catch receiver in preseason and training camp to earn a few of these called touches in his 13 receptions last season. I’m excited to see what he does with a few more of these in 2020.
The Bucs don’t need a ton from their No. 3 receiver if everyone stays healthy, but Miller provides the best skill set and on-field flashes to seize the role in 2020. He has the vertical ability to at least stretch defenses as a vertical threat, while also offering post-catch ability that could make him a unique early downs weapon. Don’t sleep on Miller’s route-running either, which improved considerably last season. He won’t catch 40 balls in 2020, but he’s the best fit to step into the lineup in Week 1 and make an impact, with or without the football.