AUBURN, Ala. — When Auburn's athletics department released a statement January 13 announcing offensive lineman Patrick Miller had decided to leave a year of eligibility on the table and declare for the NFL draft, it shocked many observers. Miller had not been one of the Tigers' underclassmen to submit paperwork to the NFL Draft Advisory Board.
Further, at the time the news became public, many draft analysts hadn't even evaluated Miller for the 2015 draft. Looking ahead to 2016, CBSSports.com rated him the 43rd-best tackle available.
But in his only meeting with reporters prior to the draft, Miller was at peace with his decision.
"Every year you're not guaranteed to play football," Miller said at Auburn's Pro Day in March, which marked his only opportunity to impress NFL coaches and scouts since he wasn't invited to the combine. "I was guaranteed a shot at the NFL if I came out now. I did it, and that's my life goal."
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Yet the move still baffled others, a group which included Gus Malzahn.
"It surprised me a little bit," Auburn's coach said at the Senior Bowl, "but that’s what he wanted to do so we’re rooting for him and we wish him the best."
Miller started 19 games at right tackle the past three seasons, as he constantly shuffled in and out of the lineup, whether it was due to injuries (last season) or a failed drug test (2013). In his last game as a Tiger, he was replaced in the lineup by then-true freshman Braden Smith. Miller repeatedly asserted that a competition on the offensive line played no part in choosing to turn pro.
In fact, Miller said the first time he had thoughts of departing Auburn came after the 2013 season ended. Between that point and the conclusion of the 2014 campaign, Miller continued to contemplate his future.
"Yeah, obviously I went back and forth, back and forth," he said, admitting many people tried to convince him to stay for his senior season. "Then I just weighed my options, talked to my family and made a decision. Once you make a decision like that, you can't go back and forth, because then you're left somewhere in the middle."
In the end, Miller couldn't see himself playing another year with the Tigers.
"You've just got to do what you believe," he said. "Facts and numbers, you can look at all that, analyze that data, but at the end of the day, you've got to go with your heart. If your heart's not in something, you're not going to be working full speed at it."
The implications of Miller's move were brought into focus this past weekend. As expected, seven rounds came and went in this year's draft — 256 selections in all — without his name being called. Shortly after, he agreed to join the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent.
Ironically, it seems Miller had braced himself for such a result, bringing up the prospect of going undrafted, unprompted, at pro day.
"I don't care how I get there. I don't care if it's first round or I'm an undrafted free agent and I work my way from the bottom up," he said. "It's all fine by me. It's not how you get there. It's that you get there."