CHARLOTTE – Christian Miller arrived at the University of Alabama in 2014 as so many football players do, regarded as one of the top prospects in the country.
Stops and starts throughout his career with the Crimson Tide didn't land him among the top prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft, but now he's out to prove that perhaps he should have been regarded that way as well.
"I truly believe I have first-round ability between my measurables and my athleticism, as well as off the field being a team leader. I truly do believe that," said Miller, a versatile outside linebacker selected by the Panthers in the fourth round, at No. 115 overall. "I feel like I'm just getting started. I feel like I haven't even scratched the surface yet. I feel like my best football is ahead of me."
Miller has good reasons for feeling that way, and the Panthers have to feel good that such a talented player was available on the third and final day of the draft.
And it's just not about his bloodlines or the blueblood he competed for in college. The 6-foot-3, 247-pounder is a South Carolina native and the son of Corey Miller, a former Gamecock selected in the 1991 draft who played nine NFL seasons predominantly with the Giants. And Christian Miller, after redshirting as a true freshman, was a part of four consecutive Alabama teams to reach the national title game.
His role with some of those teams, however, was limited. He waited patiently behind other five-star recruits in 2015 and 2016, taking advantage of the opportunities he did get, but then when it was his turn in 2017, he missed 10 games with an arm injury. He admits that injury history probably affected his draft stock.
As a senior he began to put it all together, though he did have to sit out the national title game with a hamstring injury suffered chasing No. 1 overall draft pick Kyler Murray in the national semifinal. Miller by that point had developed into a player the Crimson Tide missed in the title tilt, a player who finished second on the team with 8.5 sacks even while sharing snaps with an extremely deep unit.
Then come draft day, Miller had to be patient again – a patience that again paid off.
"To put it all together as a senior and have a complete year, it meant the world to me," Miller said. "The most important thing to me was that I was named captain by my teammates. That really was icing on the cake and something I've always dreamed of, especially at a place like Alabama.
"Obviously I wish we could have ended the season in a different manner, but all the hard work paid off. I had to develop a little bit after having a role with the team in other ways – special teams and rotating in helping with pass rush – and then when I did have my opportunity, I got injured. But I was able to come back and help win a championship that year and then put it all together."
The Panthers are excited about putting together a new look on defense next season. They've hinted throughout the offseason at featuring more hybrid looks in 2019, and decisions to draft versatile defensive end Brian Burns in the first round and then Miller in the fourth round appear to have put an exclamation point where a question mark was.
Both Burns before him and now Miller are being listed as both linebackers and defensive ends.
"I was hoping they'd look to take another edge guy and fortunately they did," said Miller, who (along with Burns) was among the 29 stadium visits the Panthers used during the pre-draft process. "They really do like my versatility, and I know they want to do a lot of different things on defense going forward.
"I do think I can check every box. … I'm able to rush off the edge, set the edge, play the run, drop into coverage."
Of course Miller wanted to hear his name called earlier in the draft, and of course he can't wait for the chance to prove that point.
But on the balance, for someone who grew up a 90-minute drive from Bank of America Stadium, Saturday was a pretty good day.
"I'm thankful I went to the right place," Miller said. "It's crazy how things work out, and I couldn't be any happier.
"It's not where you get picked, it's what you do when you get there."
Select photos of LB/DE Christian Miller from his time at Alabama.