Player profiles: Lamar Miller lacks excitement, but he's a huge asset
We’re still at least a month away from the nexus of draft season, but I’m willing to bet that whoever takes Lamar Miller in your league won’t happily sprint up to the draft board with his sticker in one hand while fist pumping the other. Miller just doesn’t generate excitement the way similarly ranked running backs like Andre Ellington, T.J. Yeldon and C.J. Spiller do.
Excitement be damned. Not only should Miller be off the board safely before the other running backs mentioned above, but you should be thrilled if you end up with him on your roster at a reasonable price.
Miller’s going to be a polarizing player in drafts this summer, which is good news for his backers. If you like him, chances are you’ll be able to get him, no matter if your league uses a draft or auction. Allow me to use the rest of this column to convince you why you should want him on your roster at, or even a bit higher than, his expected draft day price.
First of all, Miller was very good last season. He entered the year as the No. 1a to Knowshon Moreno’s No. 1 status in Miami’s backfield, but quickly took advantage when Moreno suffered an elbow injury in Week 2. Even with Moreno out there for the season opener, Miller racked up 78 yards and a touchdown on 15 touches. He would go on to run for 1,099 yards, catch 38 passes for 275 yards, and hit paydirt nine times, finishing the season as the No. 9 overall running back in standard-scoring leagues. He averaged 11.6 points per game—better than LeSean McCoy, Alfred Morris and Jeremy Hill—and had at least nine points in 11 of his 16 games. Given that he played for a team that went 8-8 and lost five game by at least 13 points, that’s an awfully high standard of achievement.
It wasn’t just the traditional numbers that liked Miller. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 15th best overall running back in the league by its metrics. When isolated for what he contributed purely as a runner, he ranked fifth, trailing only Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray, C.J. Anderson and Le’Veon Bell. A solid 5.1% of his carries went for at least 15 yards, on par with Bell, Hill and Matt Forte. Miller wasn’t impeccable in pass protection, but he wasn’t a liability either. In fact, among starting running backs, only seven had a better pass-blocking efficiency than Miller. That should keep him on the field on third down this year.
Secondly, let’s take a look at the depth chart in Miami. Rookie Jay Ajayi is certainly an intriguing player, but the Dolphins aren’t handing their backfield over to a fifth-round pick. The other three running backs on the roster are LaMichael James, Damien Williams and Mike Gillislee, a triumvirate of fantasy nothingness. Ajayi is going to have a role in the offense to be sure, but what back isn’t splitting duties at this point? Even Jamaal Charles (Knile Davis) and Adrian Peterson (Jerick McKinnon) will give way to backups for a drive here and there. That’s not to say that Miller is on their level, but illustrates that no runner has a backfield completely to himself. Ajayi is not a concern as far as Miller’s fantasy value goes.
Third, there’s plenty of reason for optimism in Miami. Ryan Tannehill had his best year as a pro last season, and is a popular breakout pick in 2015. The quarterback put up career-best marks in yards, completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdowns, interceptions, quarterback rating, and rushing yards. In his age-27 season, he looks primed to take this offense to another level. The team beefed up its offense over the offseason, with general manager Dennis Hickey acquiring Kenny Stills and Jordan Cameron, and drafting DeVante Parker out of Louisville. Center Mike Pouncey missed four games because of a hip injury, and then played the remaining 12 at guard out of necessity because of an ailing offensive line. Those defects showed on the field, as the Dolphins line ranked 27th in the league in run blocking. Pouncey will return to his natural center position this season, and that should make the entire line better.
Remember the message of this column: Excitement be damned. Let’s just look at the facts when considering Miller’s draft stock. He’s a 24-year-old running back coming off an 1,100-yard season in which he ran for 5.1 yards per carry. His competition in the backfield is as minimal as possible in the modern NFL. He plays in an up-and-coming offense, captained by a quarterback who could very well have a breakout season. His team looks like a legitimate playoff contender, and more wins invariably means more touches for the starting running back. He was the ninth-highest-scoring fantasy back in 2014 despite running behind one of the worst run-blocking lines in the league that, at the very least, can’t be any worse this year. The advanced metrics said he was a better runner than Jamaal Charles and Eddie Lacy last season. He’s sound in pass protection and a solid receiver out of the backfield. He has a reliably high floor for fantasy production, and you likely won’t have to use anything more than a late-third- or early-fourth-round pick to get him. That may not feel exciting in August, but it will September through December, and that’s what truly matters.