2nd-year RBs: Lamar MillerSunday, June 23, 2013
Headlined by Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, and sixth-round supersteal Alfred Morris, the 2012 running back class produced a generous number of quality long-term prospects. Leading up to training camp, I'm going to use NFL Game Rewind to take an extended look at each of the following second-year backs: Lamar Miller, David Wilson, Vick Ballard, Bryce Brown, Bernard Pierce, Ronnie Hillman, Daryl Richardson, Robert Turbin, Isaiah Pead, and LaMichael James.
I'm bypassing Richardson, Martin, and Morris because each received high-volume 2012 workloads, and we pretty much know they are now first-round fantasy football picks.
Before diving into Miller's first-year game tape, I went back and watched five of his heaviest-workload college games to get a stronger feel for the kind of runner he was before he entered the pros. His rookie season provides a small sample size, so it was an opportunity to become more familiar with Miller the runner. Also, I believe playing styles, tendencies, and some abilities are tweaked when pro coaching staffs, and conditioning and weight room experts enter the discussion. I always find it fascinating when NFL rookies look better in certain areas just one year removed from college. And I believe this happens more often than some people might think.
Miller's rookie year consisted of 57 touches as he was slow to learn the playbook and failed to endear himself in pass protection. Only seven of Miller's rookie-year touches came on third down, including four of his six receptions. Thus, 87.7 percent of his touches occurred on first and second down. I still came away impressed after watching him. The former Miami Hurricane demonstrated better wiggle than I noticed on Miller's college film. While not an exceptionally elusive runner, Miller's feet are quick enough that he can make defenders miss when necessary. One play stood out in the Week 10 Titans game. On second-and-one from a single-back formation, Miller made an explosive lateral cut behind the line of scrimmage to elude strong safety Jordan Babineaux charging downhill. Miller turned what well could have been a negative play into a nine-yard gain.
Lacking in Miller's game is physicality, a characteristic I also noticed from him at Miami. In more than one instance, Miller dove at the feet of an oncoming defender instead of powering through or going by him. He essentially gave up on those plays. While Miller flashed a stiff arm -- in particular on a 22-yard inside power run to break Darrelle Revis' arm tackle against the Jets in Week 3 -- Miller's game is finesse. He is not a pile pusher or leg-drive runner. I don't think he loves contact.
There were still plenty of positives. Miller's nifty feet, darting style, and plus balance could help him atone for a lack of consistent lateral explosion. His calling cards as a runner are outstanding up-field burst, ability to squirt through traffic, and dangerous perimeter speed. Miller is a bona fide playmaker when he gets space on the outside. His straight-line acceleration jumps off the screen.
The Dolphins liked putting Miller in the I-formation and the offset I, which explains their interest in free agent fullback Vonta Leach. Jorvorskie Lane can be a force in short yardage and on special teams, but he was an inconsistent lead blocker last season. As the year progressed, Miller was used more and more as the sidesaddle back next to Ryan Tannehill on shotgun plays. The tape suggests Miller was beginning to earn the coaching staff's trust as a receiver and pass protector.
Question marks remain about Miller's consistency in pass pro and whether a relatively soft back can function as a true offensive workhorse. The Dolphins appear to be thrusting Miller into that role in his second season. The Fins primarily run a zone-blocking ground game that generally doesn't require backs to churn their legs through defenders and be physical after-contact-yardage players. Vision, hole selection, and speed through the hole are more important elements for zone runners.
There is no question that Miller offers big-play ability, and in the admittedly small sample size I found him to be a sure-handed receiving back. Miller's current Average Draft Position is late in round three. Miller will offer top-15 fantasy running back upside if he holds off Daniel Thomas and rookie Mike Gillislee to be Miami's every-down back.