By his standards, Northern Iowa all-purpose running back Darrian Miller didn’t have the standout season he’d hoped for.
He rushed for 307 yards on 66 carries, caught 13 balls for 269 yards and returned three kicks for 43 yards. While none of those numbers stand out, that’s not going to keep Miller from chasing after a dream he’s had since high school.
The former all-state Blue Springs High School product is aiming to make it in the NFL as he has recently hired NFL agent Seth Schlessel. The former four-star University of Kansas recruit is hoping to land with a team as an unrestricted free agent if he doesn’t get drafted in the sixth or seventh round on Saturday in this year’s NFL Draft. NFLdraftscout.com has Miller as the 55th best running back in the 2016 draft.
“Most of the interest (from NFL teams) came after our Pro Day,” Miller said. “It was mostly teams that were in need at a certain position. After this year, my draft rating was a little bit higher going into the (senior) season. I was getting sixth-, seventh-round type projections. Right now, I will most likely have to get in through free agency. I will be in someone’s training camp, it’s just about being in the right one so I can make it into the final 53 (man roster).
“I think that’s why my projections went down because the lack of productivity my senior season. I was put into a different (offensive) system and there was new influx of talent coming in. People have told me don’t focus on what happened last season, just concentrate on mini-camp and show them what you can do. It’s a completely different slate. I’ve already forgot about last season.”
Miller said he will likely have to make it in the NFL as a special teams player, which he did some of with the Panthers. He said he would like to get on a team as a kick or punt returner or as a tackler on the defensive side of special teams. But he also is holding out hope that he can make it as a third-down running back, as well.
“My first goal is just to be on the field and making the 53-man, which I can get through on special teams, whether it’s going down and covering a punt or returning a punt or coming down on kickoffs and making a tackle,” Miller said. “Honestly, there are some teams that have shown interest in me being a running back, primarily a third-down back who can catch it out of the backfield.”
Because Miller is able to play so many positions, he’s been using his versatility as a selling point for NFL teams to give him a shot in training camp.
“I played on the outside all year,” Miller said of his senior season at UNI. “It was a whole new offense. I was also playing in the slot (receiver position) and in the backfield. When team sees my film, they are going to say, ‘This guy can do something that four guys do.’ That’s how you get signed.”
Miller is going to have to prove himself in training camp as he hadn’t been one of those players coming out of college who had put up gaudy numbers. His junior season with the Panthers he tallied 332 yards on 91 carries and had 89 kickoff return yards.
With Kansas as a sophomore, he rushed for 322 yards on 67 carries. He left the Jayhawks after his redshirt sophomore season in what then head coach Charlie Weis cited as “personal reasons.” That was the same reason Miller missed a few games for his former college team, Weis said at the time.
He was Kansas’ second-leading rusher his freshman year with 559 yards on 136 carries, but was later dismissed from the team for off-the-field issues when Weis replaced former coach Turner Gill in the offseason. He spent his sophomore season at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas, but didn’t play any games for the Grizzlies. He later received a second chance from the Jayhawks.
“Coach Weis and I never spoke before I left anyway,” Miller said. “When I came back we spoke and that’s how it happened. That’s what people don’t understand. There was never any hard feelings with Coach Weis. With direction the program was headed at that time, I didn’t think that was the best place for myself. I didn’t think I could have success there because there were some external factors that played into it.”
Miller said he plans to put all of that behind him. His focus now is to showcase his talents to NFL scouts. He even got some encouragement from current Oakland Raiders linebacker and former Kansas player Ben Heeney.
“I talk to Ben every day and we talk about what his workouts were like,” Miller said. “He reassures me sometimes he sees people not doing what they are supposed to be doing. And he said, 'I’ve seen what you can do and I know you can play at this level.'”