The morning in the spring of 2019 that Tampa Bay Buccaneers Wide Receivers Coach Kevin Garver popped in a highlight tape of Bowling Green wide receiver Scotty Miller, he lost track of the time. A Buccaneers scout had uncovered the tape days earlier and Garver was getting an early start on his day.
"We were evaluating guys in the offseason and kind of going through that whole process, and one of our scouts on staff had come across Scotty's tape – a really an under-the-radar type guy – and brought it to our attention," recalled Garver. "I remember it was early one morning, I think it might have been about 5:30 in the morning, and I pulled out this tape and I'm really kind of blown away just the way this guy is playing, just the way his tape looked."
Garver immediately placed a call to Miller, not thinking about the fact that it was 4:30 a.m. on the other end. His mind was apparently still occupied by the sheer speed he had just witnessed on the scouting tape. Miller didn't pick up, but did call back 30 minutes later. The Bucs set up a meeting with him and then went to his Bowling Green Pro day, where Garver again liked what he saw.
"You see guys that run 4.3s and they really don't play that fast," he said. "I think it was more of a confirmation when he did run at his Pro Day and then seeing what he does on tape."
The Buccaneers would eventually take the lightly-scouted Miller in the sixth round of the 2019 draft. He made the roster as a rookie but on a team absolutely loaded with pass-catching talent was relegated to a few big moments and a total of 200 receiving yards and one touchdown. He also had to battle through a hamstring injury for a good portion of the season.
This year, Miller forged an early connection with new Bucs quarterback Tom Brady and was actually the team's leader in receiving yards at the midway point with an even 400. The arrival of Antonio Brown and a few more injuries Miller had to play through limited his production in the second half but he has four catches for 80 yards in the playoffs, including a back-breaking 39-yard touchdown in the final seconds of the first half of the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay.
The Packers may not have completely understood the peril they were facing putting Miller in man coverage with a single-high safety and eight seconds to go in the half. Miller ran past a flat-footed Kevin King and made a sliding catch in the end zone to give the Bucs a 21-10 lead.
"I'm not sure why guys continue to sit on him," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "I think in that situation they may have thought we were playing for a field goal and trying to get a shorter pass in. After 20 weeks you would think there would be some respect about his speed. I'm sure there will be on Sunday."
For his part, Miller doesn't think the Packers were discounting his speed, but it might have been a factor. It's something he's used to.
"I think that's definitely an element to consider," said Miller. "I think people underestimate my speed, but at the end of the day I think at this point in my career and college, if anyone's looking at their scouting report I think they should know that I'm usually the speed guy on whatever team I'm on. So I'm guessing the Packers had a pretty good idea that that's what I do, I go deep. I guess you could chalk it up a little bit to them not expecting much out of me but I think they probably had a pretty good idea that I could run.
"I'm very confident in my speed. I think I can run with anybody, anywhere. I think I should start getting more respect for what I do on Sundays, but it is what it is. I can't control that. I just go out there and try to make plays when my number's called."
Miller is listed at 5-11 and 174 pounds. He wasn't on many NFL radars before Garver watched his tape and that wasn't surprising to him. He recently made headlines when he answered a question on Dan Patrick's radio show and said he believed he was faster than the Kansas City Chief's Tyreek Hill, whom the Buccaneers will try their best to contain in Super Bowl LV on Sunday. Miller is used to having to be more confident in himself than others are about him.
"It's crazy, an underdog story," said Miller of his path to the NFL. "I've just kind of been doubted my whole life because of my size and other things, as well. I've just fought for it. I've earned everything I've gotten. It's been like that since youth football, ever since I started playing. I remember tackle football in fifth grade -- I still, in my opinion, was probably the best guy out there. I'm always confident in my abilities and myself -- even back then – but I was riding the bench even then. The coach didn't want to put me in, but every time I got an opportunity, I was able to make a play. It's really been that way my whole life, so I've just tried to take advantage of every opportunity I've gotten. It's been an awesome journey. There have been some lows [and] there have been some highs, but I just try to take every day one day at a time, work hard and try to maximize my potential."
If anything, the Buccaneers are even more stacked in pass-catchers in 2020 than they were a year ago, with the arrivals of Brown, Rob Gronkowski and Tyler Johnson. Miller still has to deal with inconsistent playing time early in his career. He was on the field for a robust 28 snaps in Green Bay but got just eight in each of the Bucs' first two playoff games. Eventually, he hopes to develop into a player like Hill who is more central to his team's passing success.
"I haven't really gotten anywhere not being confident in myself in this profession or in life, really," said Miller, explaining his exchange on Patrick's show. "So I just answered that question confidently and said what I thought. But it's no disrespect. I have so much respect for Tyreek Hill and what he's done. Really, he's a guy I aspire to be like, a smaller receiver who's turned himself into, really, one of the best receivers in the league. I'm hoping to have a similar career to him."
It remains to be seen how far Miller's talents can take him in the NFL. It is no longer a question, however, that he will always be one of the fastest men on any field onto which he steps. One of his more celebrated teammates, Mike Evans, has known that for quite some time.
"When we first saw him, he was blazing fast," said Evans. "We were lined up next to each other, we both got mirror routes. I got a go, he got a go and he's leaving me. I started on the ball and he's leaving me in practice. In practice I always try to gauge my speed going against guys like DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin, all those guys I've played with, Antonio, and I tried to see when we got mirror routes how fast I could go, and he was a couple yards ahead of me. I knew he was real fast right away."