Life is a fickle beast. Some of the most skillful surgeons never pick up a scalpel, some of the most talented writers never pick up a pen, and some of the greatest athletes never lace up a pair of cleats. Rontez Miles' situation is a little different. Blessed with undeniable talent as well as a love for the game, he appeared to be on the fast track to NFL. And then, it was all gone. So how did Miles work his way back to a roster spot in the NFL, and how can he help the New York Jets going forward?
Brief Biography: Rontez Miles grew up underprivileged in a rough section of Pittsburgh, but football came naturally to the athletic youngster. He eventually became good enough to stand out even at Woodland Hills High School, which had previously produced Rob Gronkowski and Jason Taylor. Rontez' best friend growing up was his half-brother Vondre, who was also a standout football player at the same school. When Vondre chose to play quarterback at Kent State, Rontez could not imagine playing anywhere else. Despite offers from West Virginia, Colorado, and Pittsburgh (among others), Rontez decided to follow Vondre to Kent State. This would become a theme. When Vondre was kicked out of school for various legal and academic problems, Rontez decided to leave Kent State as well. When Vondre took a job in a warehouse, Rontez joined him. The two were inseparable. It seemed that football was a distant memory for the supremely talented defensive back, until California University of Pennsylvania came calling almost two years later.
At Cal U, he emerged as a team leader and a defensive wrecking ball, racking up almost as many league awards as tackles–including PSAC West Freshman of the Year, 2011 PSAC West Defensive Player of the Year, Daktronics Super Region 1 Defensive Player of the Year, and 2012 PSAC West Defensive Player of the Year. He was especially productive in his junior and senior seasons, amassing 146 tackles and 9 interceptions. His hard hitting and decent ball skills made him a potential mid-round pick. Unfortunately, Miles did not hear his name called on draft day, and subsequently signed with the New York Jets on April 27, 2013. Considered a possibility to start alongside Dawan Landry, Miles missed bits off training camp while dealing with an undisclosed injury. Once he came off the Physically Unable to Perform list, Miles recorded four tackles and one pass breakup in the preseason. After being among the last cuts, Miles was signed to the Jets' practice squad.
Why should he be given a chance? The Jets' have received surprisingly competent play from Antonio Allen and Dawan Landry this season. Nevertheless, Landry is 30 years old and is only signed for 2 years. Allen has had a solid 2013 but looked utterly over-matched last season, so it remains to be seen how he adjusts when teams get more tape on him. Rontez Miles is an intriguing option at either safety spot. His size–6 foot and 200 pounds–is ideal for the position, and his combine numbers indicate impressive athleticism. He is a spectacular tackle, but isn't as boom or bust as most big hitters. Miles' great technique allows him to make the stop more often than not, and his natural strength and tenacity ensures that the ball carrier will remember the hit for days to come. Check out the attached highlight reel—it is obvious that Miles hits like a brick wall. He's instinctive and covers a lot of ground, so his potential as an "in the box" safety is certainly interesting. His ability to cover ground also makes him an appealing player to play deep in coverage, and his 9 interceptions in his last two years of college show that he has some natural ball skills. Even if he doesn't cut it as a safety, his aggressiveness will make him a very useful player on special teams, according to Rex Ryan.
"The one thing you can't take away from him is, this dude is aggressive and it will show up more on special teams than it will anywhere else." - Rex Ryan
Things to Improve On: Given that Miles missed the opportunity to play college football at a high level (by his own choice), he is probably one of the rawest players in the league, especially if lined up at safety. He needs to get quicker in reading and analyzing routes, and could stand to improve his angles when tracking the ball in the air. His main issue is that he needs playing time to make up for the reps that he missed in college. Also, Miles will be 25 in two weeks, so he is quite a bit older than most rookies (although it is obviously not something that he can improve on). To put it in perspective, Kyle Wilson is only a year older but already has 4 years of NFL experience.
NFL Resume: Miles has almost no NFL resume. He played limited snaps in the preseason, and generally held up decently well. He recorded 4 tackles and 1 pass breakup for the Jets in the 2013 preseason. After being promoted to the Jets' active roster, Miles was featured with the special team's unit versus the Saints.
How he fits into the Jets' 2013 plans: As of now, Miles is here to play on special teams. Rex loves his tenacity in chasing the ball carrier, and players with his speed/strength combination are always useful on special teams. Depending on how quickly he catches on, Miles may be able to unseat Jaiquawn Jarrett or Josh Bush, as the latter only received 4 defensive snaps last week and has generally not played much this season. Though it is unlikely that he'll make an impact defensively in 2013, he has a great chance to receive increased snaps in 2014. Quite simply, he probably has the most potential of any safety on the Jets roster. If his skills translate to the NFL, he could become an above-average safety sooner rather than later.
NFL Comparisons: When I watch Rontez Miles, I see a lot of Laron Landry. Both guys have a notable mean streak, and the way that Miles persues the ball carrier is eerily reminiscent of the former Jets safety. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller compared Miles to Miami Dolphin Jimmy Wilson, and NFLMocks.com compared him to Cleveland Brown T.J. Ward (although I'll say that this is a bit optimistic).