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A new friend: Anthony Miller is driven by an intense attention to detail and his critics

Passion is the name of the game for the Bears’ young receiver. Passion is what can make Miller a special playmaker.

Memphis v Navy
There is no ball in the air that Miller can’t get his hands on.
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Doubt him if you want, that’s your prerogative, but Anthony Miller relishes in proving his detractors wrong. As a college walk-on at Memphis, he’s had obstacles thrown in his way for years. They don’t phase him anymore. Instead, they prop him up. These are obstacles that Miller blew by with hard work and earnest determination each time.

It’s how Miller put together a college career at Memphis that turned him into of the game’s most productive and explosive playmakers. His fire, his fuel, is critics saying he can’t do it, or that he isn’t the best. Whether or not someone actually is at the top of their field, it doesn’t matter. Believing you are is half the battle towards greatness. It’s carrying yourself with a certain swagger. Someone, anyone, telling you you aren’t special and diligently working to prove to them you actually are seems maniacal, but an intrinsic motivator that’s often overlooked. It’s needed too. That’s an issue Miller doesn’t have as he begins his career in the NFL with the Bears.

Chicago traded up to draft Miller in the middle of the 2018 NFL Draft’s second round because he’s so intensely competitive. Because he loves the game and the brotherhoods he’s cultivated from playing it. And because he understands what it means to be a consummate professional, without having playing a down of the football at it’s highest level.

To better understand where Miller is coming from and what new heights he could reach with the Bears, I spoke with Joe Broback of SB Nation’s Underdog Dynasty for an in-depth look at the passionate wideout.

Miller was a walk-on at Memphis in 2013 and went on to catch over 2,800 yards and 32 touchdowns in his last two seasons while becoming a consensus All-American. What led to this rise in play? How did Miller become one of college football’s most complete receivers?

Joe Broback: It comes down to his attitude. Miller is a fierce competitor and refuses to fail. That means he competes in every aspect of the game. He takes the little things seriously and it shows on film. Miller runs his routes with a purpose. His footwork on releases and breaks is incredibly nuanced. He creates separation from defenders without breaking a sweat, and he rarely drops any passes. This comes on top of his athleticism to make difficult catches. Miller’s will to win and competitive nature are what make him successful.

He certainly doesn’t lack confidence, as Miller called himself the best receiver in the draft in a Player’s Tribune article, and said he’s going to “beat Alshon’s (Jeffery) legacy” after taking No. 17 as a jersey number with the Bears. What’s behind Miller’s confidence?

JB: No one wanted Miller out of college as that walk-on and he never forgets it. From someone no one wanted to a highly coveted receiver, Miller understands where he came from. He’s determined to prove doubters wrong, and you see that in his play.

The Bears are getting a player whose goal is to win at everything he does and add to his impressive career. One thing I hope the Bears realize: while he’s trying to beat Jeffery’s legacy, I don’t want them to think he’ll be the same player. Miller and Jeffrey are different, but Miller can be just as elite, if not better, than Jeffery.

Miller played everywhere in college. How did the coaching staff maximize his abilities? How would you use Miller to get him acclimated to the league? What are the greatest strengths of his game? What is his ceiling?

JB: Miller can play anywhere, but he’s best in the slot. He can run any route, and will continue to develop his craft regardless of where he lines up. He tracks the ball well, makes great catches on the sideline, and can create separation naturally. Giving Miller the opportunity to run any route at all times maximizes him.

He’s been compared to Kendall Wright, but I think he could be better than Wright. He may not have Wright’s top-end speed, but he does everything else at a higher level. Miller’s attention to detail will keep him in the league for a long time.

What concerns you about how Miller translates to the NFL? What are aspects of his game that he still has to work on, and could lead to growth issues (he is 24)?

Sometimes, Miller drops short throws. Not enough for it to be a concern, but enough to be frustrating Also, since he’s so competitive, he’s always fighting for extra yards. This can lead to ball security issues. Miller also had five fumbles in college: more than you’d like.

Something says Miller can make up for his occasional drops.

Being 24 is more of a concern for analysts and second contracts. The Bears should love the players they’re getting. Miller is meticulously works on his craft and constantly win at anything, so teaching him new things shouldn’t be an issue.

What is your favorite memory of Miller at Memphis, one that defines who he is as a player?

Miller’s story of being a walk-on is great, but he finally made it a team effort this past year. He labeled Memphis’ game against UCLA in September the “Five-stars versus the walk-ons” and it showed in his play. The Tigers were determined to beat the Bruins and their leader put on a show, backing up his words.

Miller torched the Bruins secondary with nine catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns in the Tigers’ 48-45 win. He’s a Michael Jordan fan, and has that similar killer instinct. This is a marriage between Miller and Chicago marriage set to go quite well.

Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and is a contributor to Pro Football Weekly and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.