To everyone’s surprise, the Texans’ passing game was efficient to dynamic this past Sunday against the Jaguars. The run game complemented the pass game very well. Tyrod Taylor used his mobility to stretch the pocket and was able to drive the ball into tight windows when needed.
Keep in mind this was against a very suspect defensive front and secondary. This won’t be the case this upcoming Sunday. The Browns have one of the best pass defenses in the AFC. Luckily, the Texans will be getting another weapon to add to their aerial arsenal this week, as newly acquired slot wide-receiver Anthony Miller is coming back from his preseason injury. In lieu of Miller’s return, this is a perfect time to dive into who Anthony Miller has been and who he can be in this league.
The Chicago Bears traded up to draft Anthony Miller 58th overall out of The University of Memphis in the 2018 NFL Draft. He did not receive the warmest welcome in the Windy City. The Chicago fanbase did not see trading up to take a non Power Five conference, older, senior wide receiver with an injury history as the smartest move. To the credit of the Bears front office, 2,800 receiving yards and 33 touchdowns over two years is tough to ignore, no matter the level of football. Still, unfortunately for Miller, he was going to one of the most passionate football cities in America labeled as “over-drafted” through no fault of his own.
During Miller’s rookie campaign, he did live up to the expectations of a wide receiver drafted in the second round. Coming into the league as a senior with loads of playing experience, Miller was able to find action on the field immediately, and that action turned into quality production. During his first season, Miller had 33 receptions, 423 receiving yards, and showed his biggest upside and value by snagging 7 touchdowns. Miller really excelled in the red zone as a slot wide-receiver who could use his quick footwork and relatively big body (6’ and 200 lbs.) to get open in tight spaces and find pay dirt. Miller did miss the last game of his rookie year after he was ejected for fighting a 49ers safety who hit Mitch Trubisky while he was sliding.
Going into his second year in 2019, we began to see where things began to go south for Miller in Chicagoland. He battled nagging lower body injuries from college that bothered him through training camp. Despite this, he was still able to find quality production, bringing 52 receptions, 656 receiving yards, and 2 touchdowns. The issue with this production is that a majority of it came over just 4 games. This led to the narrative that Miller disappeared for weeks and was unable to consistently produce, the most valuable thing in the NFL.
There are theories that Miller’s injuries played a factor into his inconsistent production, or that he just didn’t have the “will” or “mental fortitude” to bring his A game every Sunday. Personally, I don’t buy into these theories at all. I think it came down to the play calling, and more importantly, the quarterback play in Chicago. There were times during the 2019 campaign where Anthony Miller would run a beautiful route and be wide open; he just didn’t have the quarterback to get him the ball. If you watch the tape of the 2019 Bears-Patriots and the Bears-Dolphins games, Bill Belichick and Brian Flores left the backside of the field open, allowing Miller to get wide open the entire first half. No one could get the ball to him. Given different circumstances, he could’ve been a 1,000-yard slot wideout his second year.
This inability to get the ball, combined with nagging injuries and his natural fiery competitive personality, led Anthony Miller to become a locker room issue during the Bears’ 2020 training camp. Rumors came out that he wasn’t taking his play book or route tree seriously. Like most news in the NFL, if something gets out, it is supposed to, and I believe the front office was leaking this narrative to save face for when they ultimately needed to move on from Miller.
He had a drop-off in 2020, and the final punch of his ticket out of Chicago came after he punched Saints cornerback C.J. Gardner-Johnson in the second half of the NFC Wild Card game. The Bears already had issues with Gardner-Johnson previously, but Chicago head coach Matt Nagy told the team before the game that any fighting would result in departure from the team.
During the 2021 offseason, the Texans were able to acquire Miller, alongside a seventh round draft pick, for a 2022 fifth round selection, right after the Texans moved Randall Cobb to the Packers for a similar package. This was an extremely underrated move by Nick Caserio. The Texans were able to get cheaper, younger, and raise the ceiling of their slot position in a matter of days.
Anthony Miller had a rough couple of years to start his NFL career, but I believe the upside is still there. He can be a bit fiery and hot-headed, but that stuff can level out with maturity. He has great, quick footwork, combined with a big body for a slot wideout, that should allow him to be a great matchup for Tyrod Taylor and the Texans in the red zone. His route running is smooth, and his speed still allows him to stretch the field. He has great acceleration, and more importantly, his body control makes the back shoulder throw always open. Miller can be at his best when faking a fade to the back of the end zone and burning a cornerback on a back shoulder throw.
#17 has a chance to have a fresh start in the NFL. Houston this season is the right spot to do it. We should all be really excited to see what Miller can do this upcoming Sunday and onward.