A few names are out there as comparisons for Bears second-round wide receiver Anthony Miller, headlined by Steve Smith and Antonio Brown as well as Kendall Wright. But Miller’s wide receivers coach at Memphis, David Johnson, offered up a seemingly out-of-the-box comparison:
The Honey Badger, of course, is a defensive back, and his job is to keep guys like Miller from succeeding. But Johnson coached Mathieu when the 2015 All-Pro was in high school, and explained the comparison has everything to do with the two players’ work ethic and, as he put it, relentlessness.
“They won’t be denied,” Johnson, now the receivers coach at Tennessee, said. “They’re not worried about anything else when they get on that football field. It’s about whatever play they’re doing, every play is full speed, every play is like their last play. And watching that and watching how hard he works, that’s who he reminded me of.”
That comparison is a good starting point for beginning to understand what kind of the player the Bears drafted with the 51st overall pick last week. Miller said he’ll bring his “Memphis grind” to Chicago, the sort of chip-on-his-shoulder attitude that was the guiding force behind his ascendance from being a college walk-on to an offensive force.
Miller also said he doesn’t want to be compared to Smith or Brown because, someday, he wants young receivers to be compared to him.
He’s never lacked confidence, but that confidence never crossed the line into the sort of cockiness that can make someone a bad locker room presence.
“Once he gets a good understanding of exactly what’s going on, in his mind, he’s one of the best players,” Johnson said. “And he actually thought he was the best receiver to come to Memphis when he had (694) yards receiving, and it was us trying to catch up. And it’s a good thing. Some people say well, it’s a bad thing, but in order to play receiver and to play a position like that and play on the next level, you have to have that confidence in yourself. Because if you don’t, nobody else will.”
That confidence possessed by Miller is one of the reasons why the Bears were excited to draft him, too.
“This is a kid that has worked hard to get to where he has gotten to, and everybody knows that,” coach Matt Nagy said. “His family, himself, coaches and players around the league. You feel that. So when we knew there was a possibility for us to be able to get him, it was for us a really good situation. Ryan did a great job with his guys of trying to figure out a way when we saw that there was a chance of making it happen.
“For Anthony to have that inner confidence that he showed, you never want to take that away. You’ve got to understand it’s a new league and you’re going to have to work hard for everything you get. But at the same time don’t take that away from somebody because he’s worked extremely hard to get to this point.”
Johnson raved about Miller’s constant desire to get better, whether it’s by watching film, studying route concepts and taking notes off the field, or not taking any reps off on the field during practice. Miller had to have that attitude to make it this far – he didn’t have any Division I offers as a high schooler and had to walk on at Memphis just to have a shot at college football’s top level.
“He understands the game and where it’s going and what he needs to do to be effective,” Johnson said. “My biggest thing I told him early on was I want to see what you’re going to do without the football. I know what you can do with the football. And he embraced those things and he understands about being a really good teammate, he understands he needs another receiver on the other side in order for him to be successful on any level. And he did a good job of really understanding and (leading) the guys around him to make sure everybody played at a certain level.”
Miller’s college production speaks for itself — 238 receptions, 3,590 yards, 37 touchdowns — and it was a product of an uncommon desire to get better and prove and he not only belonged in college football, but that he was one of the best players at his level. And those are traits that Johnson doesn’t see changing now that Miller is off to the NFL.
“He was always raised to go full speed in whatever he was doing,” Johnson said. “He’s always been the smallest person on the team, he’s been the guy nobody really pays attention to at first, early on. And he always had that chip on his shoulder, and to watch him practice — you know, most people, they didn’t get a chance to watch him practice, but he practices exactly like he plays. It was full speed.”