I don’t get it. I really don’t. Are fantasy owners still nursing their wounds from when Lamar Miller burned them in 2013? Do they think Ryan Tannehill’s new contract means he’ll be passing the ball on 75% of the Dolphins’ offensive plays? Because Lamar Miller’s current ADP of RB16 (36th overall) just doesn’t make sense to me.
I mean, I understand some of the concern. The Dolphins did draft Jay Ajayi in the 5th round, and Ajayi is a very talented back who slipped in the draft due to health concerns. The Dolphins also have been hesitant to give Miller the full RB workload in the past.
I’m going to spend the next couple paragraphs, though, explaining why Lamar Miller at his current price is wildly undervalued.
The 2014 Campaign
In order to better understand Miller’s 2015 potential, we need to first look back at his 2014 season. Miller finished as RB9 in 2014, rushing for 1,099 yards and 8 TDs on 216 carries. He added 275 receiving yards on 38 catches (52 targets) with 1 TD through the air. Solid season, right?
Like I said, good enough for RB9. What makes it more impressive though, is that Miller’s season came on only 62% of the Dolphins’ total RB touches. For some perspective on what that means, Eddie Lacy (RB6) had 66% of the Packers’ total RB touches, LeSean McCoy (RB12) had 70% of the Eagles’ RB touches, and Matt Forte (RB3) had 90% (90%!!) of the Bears’ RB touches. Miller finished as a top-10 RB while not getting the touches your typical bell-cow back would receive.
So how did Miller do it? He was efficient. His 5.1 yards per carry was tied for 2nd among RBs, trailing only Justin Forsett. This allowed him to put up 12 top-24 RB weeks despite never getting more than 19 carries in a single game.
Miller’s offensive line also helped. After fielding one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL in 2013, Miami flipped the script in 2014, ranking 9th in run blocking according to Football Outsiders.
His 2015 Potential
Offenses change from year to year, so we can’t just look at 2014 and expect Miller to repeat his performance. There are plenty of reasons, though, to be optimistic about Miller’s 2015 fantasy campaign.
Firstly, he’s still only 24 years old. It feels like Miller’s been around forever since he was heavily hyped by fantasy experts before 2013, but he’s really just entering his prime. It’s likely that we haven’t seen the best football of Miller’s career yet.
Secondly, it’s possible that the offensive line will be even better in 2015. There’ll be some changes, but every player leaving had a negative rating on Pro Football Focus. If their replacements are simply average, the line may even improve. This means that Miller’s efficiency is likely repeatable.
Thirdly, and most importantly, the Dolphins offense should be better as a whole. It’s Ryan Tannehill’s second year with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, and he seemed to make strides last year in Lazor’s Chip Kelly-esque system.
The team upgraded their pass-catchers as well, which should help Tannehill run a very efficient offense. As explained in this article by Jason Lisk at pro-football-reference.com (http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?p=585), an efficient passing offense leads to more red-zone opportunities, which leads to more touchdowns. So if Tannehill and company really are better than last year, Miller may be in line for a double digit touchdown season.
As I stated earlier, Miller’s situation does have some red flags. They drafted Jay Ajayi, a running back out of Boise State. Ajayi profiles as a three-down back, and many view him as an eventual replacement for Miller.
Ajayi slipped to the Dolphins in the 5th round due to concerns about his knee. He tore his ACL in 2011, and doctors say that he does not have much cartilage left in his knee. His talent, though, is without question.
I think Ajayi, if he can stay healthy, has a bright future ahead of him as an NFL running back. That does not mean he’s going to make Lamar Miller irrelevant. Remember, when we looked at Miller’s 2014 campaign we saw that he had 62% of the running back touches, a low number for such a high finisher.
I also postured that Miller has the opportunity to increase on his already impressive efficiency numbers in 2015. Is it really likely that the Dolphins are going to feed their rookie running back with injury concerns more than 38% of the RB touches when they have a talented back like Miller in the fold? No. It’s not.
The Bottom Line
It’s relatively safe to assume similar efficiency and a similar workload for Miller in 2015, which would put his floor somewhere around RB9. His ceiling, if Miami’s offense improves and Miller continues to develop, is that of a top 3 RB.
Yet he’s being drafted as RB16. Take advantage of this, and draft Miller in the third round. He’ll be there, and he’ll perform better than the other options.
Think Miller is in for a down year? Think Jay Ajayi is too good to be stopped? Don’t like reading articles with lots of percentages? Let me know in the comments or on twitter @nwalshington! I’d love to talk fantasy football.
This photo is courtesy and copyrighted by June Rivera via Flickr. This image is being used in accordance with Creative Commons and all rights are reserved by June Rivera.
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