What Auburn football is getting in WVU transfer cornerback Dreshun Miller
From an advanced numbers standpoint, the Tigers now have three cornerbacks who were among the nation's best in the 2020 season.
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On National Signing Day, Bryan Harsin identified three specific needs for Auburn that still remained.
Two of them were rather obvious — running back and offensive line. Running back was a position group that didn’t have much depth, and the Tigers added 3-star Mississippi native Jarquez Hunter two days later. Offensive line has been a well-established issue for Auburn in recent seasons, especially in the area of recruiting.
The third, though, was a group that could have already been considered one of the Tigers’ strengths heading into the 2021 season — defensive back. Although Auburn lost Jamien Sherwood, Christian Tutt and Jordyn Peters, it returned a massive amount of frontline experience and quality depth.
But a team can’t really have too many talented defensive backs, especially with the way college football is played these days.
That’s why, earlier this week, Auburn signed West Virginia transfer cornerback Dreshun Miller. An Atlanta native, Miller is a former JUCO All-American who sat out the 2019 season at West Virginia with a knee injury before a breakout campaign in 2020. (Before he landed at WVU, he was a one-time LSU commitment.)
“Dreshun is a big-time player that was one of the better corners in the country last year,” Harsin said in a statement Tuesday. “He has great instincts and is tremendous in pass coverage. He will give us much needed experience and depth in our secondary.”
Miller had two years of eligibility left at West Virginia, and the COVID-19 rule during the 2020 season means he could play two years on the Plains. Some media members expect him to be off to the NFL after the 2021 campaign, so he’s an instant-impact type of pickup with a strong resume.
As friend of the newsletter Nathan King pointed out recently, Miller is regarded as one of the best defensive backs available in the portal:
Statistically, Auburn already had one of the best pairs of cornerbacks in all of college football. Roger McCreary graded out as a premier cornerback in the SEC last season, and Nehemiah Pritchett was an advanced statistics machine in his first year as a regular starter.
Now here comes Miller, who isn’t too far behind Pritchett in a lot of those categories.
Miller played almost all of his snaps for the Mountaineers at outside cornerback, which will make for an interesting offseason of decision-making for defensive coordinator Derek Mason and corners coach Zac Etheridge.
Tutt was Auburn’s primary nickel, so the Tigers have a starting job open there. McCreary and Pritchett were outside corners in 2020, and both Jaylin Simpson and Marco Domio bring extra experience there.
In terms of playing style, Miller fits right in with McCreary and Pritchett. The 6-foot-1, 192-pound Miller is long and physical in coverage. He recorded nine pass breakups last season, which was tied for the fourth-most in the entire FBS.
Miller was also the top cornerback on a West Virginia defense that allowed the fewest passing yards per game in the FBS last season and ranked No. 10 in yards allowed per pass attempt. Considering the amount of pass-heavier offenses in the Big 12 — two of Miller’s best games came against Baylor and Texas Tech, who were among the nation’s top 25 teams in pass attempts per game — those numbers are impressive.
According to Pro Football Focus, in nine games last season, Miller allowed more than two catches just twice. One of those, a win over TCU, featured just three catches on nine targets in coverage for a grand total of 17 yards — less than two per attempt that went his way.
Here is where Miller finished among qualified FBS cornerbacks last season in several advanced statistics:
14th in yards allowed per snap (0.69)
21st in snaps in coverage per reception allowed (16.1)
26th in completion percentage when targeted (47.4%)
28th in PFF’s coverage grade (77.6)
33rd in snaps in coverage per target (7.6)
39th in yards allowed per reception (11.1)
Take out the cornerbacks who have moved on to the NFL and those playing in weaker Group of Five competition, and there’s a legitimate argument to be made that Miller gives Auburn three of the top 20 returning corners in college football from a statistical standpoint.
One of the reasons West Virginia allowed so few passing yards last season was its secondary’s ability to tackle quickly after the catch. Miller only allowed 4.33 YAC per reception last season, and his yards per reception mark of 11.1 would have ranked first among all Auburn cornerbacks a season ago.
Miller is a physical cornerback who isn’t afraid to play through his man to get to the ball. Sometimes, that can lead to penalties — and he had a few games at West Virginia where he was flagged multiple times. But the Mountaineers could live with that, considering how disruptive he was through the air.
The addition of Miller will give Auburn another tough coverage option in the secondary, and one who showed strength in both man and zone coverage at West Virginia a season ago.
This should be a major weapon on third downs, an area in which the Tigers struggled in a season ago. Auburn had the seventh-worst third-down defensive percentage in the FBS last year, ranking 94th in opponent third-down completion percentage and 101st in opponent third-down pass efficiency.
Harsin specifically mentioned instincts in his statement about signing Miller, and that aspect of his game shines through on film. Just watch how he perfectly reads a play and reacts for an interception against Baylor last season:
Miller is expected to arrive at Auburn in the summer, so he won’t go through spring practices with the rest of the Tigers. However, his status as an FBS-to-FBS transfer means that he will be ahead of the curve and fresh out of a Power 5 strength and conditioning program.
On paper, Auburn didn’t have an overwhelming need at cornerback, but the coaching staff made it a priority to land a player like Miller in the portal. It’s a case of the rich getting richer, as he looks like someone who can plug right into the work the Tigers have already done with McCreary and Pritchett.
Mason and Etheridge will have a good problem on their hands — there are quite a few talented cornerbacks on this roster and only a limited amount of depth chart spots and snaps to go around.
Miller’s arrival should breed more competition in an already loaded position group at the very least. That’s a win-win for all parties involved.
Up next on The Auburn Observer: Friday is an Aubserver Mailbag day for subscribers. Any last-minute questions can be sent to @JFergusonAU on Twitter or via email at the1andonlyJF@gmail.com.