The Truth About Lamar Miller

 

It’s about time someone says enough is enough of the Lamar Miller hate. His name leaves a sour taste in owners’ mouths, which is understandable to some degree. However, the dynasty community and even the fantasy community as a whole tends to overcorrect when it comes to player values. Now, of course, there are those in the community who are still Lamar Miller believers (myself included), but a vast majority have written him off as a bust. I am here now to correct the communities’ overcorrection of Lamar Miller’s fantasy value.

Community: “Lamar Miller cannot handle a full workload.”

Last season, Miller rushed for 1073 yards and 5 touchdowns on 268 carries and added 31 receptions for 188 yards and 1 touchdown through the air. In total, that is 299 touches for 1261 yards and 6 touchdowns, which landed him as the RB19 in 2016. Miller also missed the last two games in 2016, which would have put Miller close to 350 touches on the year. Unfortunately, the increase in volume caused a decrease in efficiency and Miller finished with a career-low 4.0 yards per carry. Miller’s efficiency was a big reason why fantasy owners were drooling over Miller last summer.

Before 2016, Miller boasted a career 4.59 YPC in Miami but was never given the volume of a workhorse back. His move to Houston last summer gave fantasy owners everything they wanted from Miller in Miami: volume. His ADP spiked to inside the top-20 in dynasty startups, and the expectations went through the roof. Not only did people expect Miller to rush for over 1300 yards, but he was a candidate for the overall RB1. Much to the dismay of his owners, Miller did not come close to meeting expectations and has since been labeled a “bust.”

Me: “Lamar Miller is an RB1 without being a workhorse.”

In Miller’s five-year career, he has finished as an RB1 twice, in 2014 and 2015. In fact, he finished as the RB5 in 2015. A deeper look into his numbers those two years may surprise you. In 2014, Miller rushed for 1099 yards and 8 touchdowns on 216 carries, finishing as the RB9. In 2015, Miller rushed for only 872 yards and 8 touchdowns on 194 carries but finished as the RB5. Miller was still able to finish as an RB1 (and actually inside the top-5) on less than 200 carries. So, am I worried about Miller’s decrease in carries in 2017? Not one bit.

In fact, a decrease in carries may be exactly what Miller needs to get back on track. If the Texans can keep Miller fresh by dropping his carries, he can become more efficient with his carries. Remember, if Miller rushes for 4.5 yards per carry on only 200 carries, he is still a 900-yard rusher.

As a Miller owner, I want the Texans to decrease his carries. He will be able to stay fresh for the entire season, and he can do more with less. The Atlanta Falcons do the same with Devonta Freeman, who is a consensus top-5 back. The Falcons did not give Freeman a huge workload in 2016 (227 carries), but he still rushed for almost 1100 yards. More with less.

Looking deeper at Miller’s 2016 season, his numbers in the receiving game took a hit.

 

 

 

 

As you can see, Miller had his lowest receiving production in 2016 over the last three seasons. This production dip can probably be attributed to the “Osweiler Effect.” Anybody who owned any Texan receiver last year knew the struggle, especially DeAndre Hopkins owners. Hopkins was targeted 41 times less in 2016 compared to 2015. Because of this, his receptions dropped significantly from 111 to 78 and his catch percentage dropped from 57.8% to 51.7%.

The entire Texans offense as a whole attempted 272 fewer passes in 2016 compared to 2015. I think we can all agree that is a lot of volume missing, and Hopkins owners felt every bit of that.

Back to Miller, he is an outstanding receiver out of the backfield, and it’s up to the coaching staff to utilize him as such. If he can see an increase in receiving volume similar to his numbers in Miami, Miller’s upside only increases. To go along with the Osweiler Effect, defenses stacked the box against Miller to shut down the run game.

Miller ran against 8 or more men in the box on 11.6% of his carries, which was the 37th highest percentage among backs in 2016. That may not seem like a high percentage, but for comparison, Todd Gurley ran against a stacked box on only 4.7% of his rushes, 85th among backs in 2016. On the other side, Ezekiel Elliott rushed against a stacked box on 22.7% of his rushes, good for 17th in the league for 2016.

Community: “Lamar Miller has injury concerns.”

Miller missed the final two games of the season due to an ankle injury. He was able to come back and play in the Texan’s two playoff games. However, due to the increase in workload, Miller broke down as the season progressed, which eventually led to his ankle injury in Week 15.

Me: “Miller never missed a game for three straight years before 2016.”

Miller is not an injury concern. Before 2016, Miller never missed a game over his three years with Miami as a premiere option in the offense. His workload over the course of the season was the likely cause of his ankle injury in Week 15. Miller is not the workhorse back people believed he could be, but that is not due to his durability. In fact, before his injury in Week 15, Miller was only on the injury report once throughout the 2016 season. A second season in the Texans offense with a decreased workload will be beneficial for him. Injuries should not be a concern moving forward because it never was prior to 2016.

If Miller had not gotten hurt, he would have finished as a high RB2 or even low-end RB1. Miller averaged 76.6 rushing yards per game, putting him at 1226 yards on the season. That alone would have put Miller at RB14, right in front of Isaiah Crowell. Adding an extra 4 receptions for 30 receiving yards in the final two games puts Miller at RB13. If he found the end zone once in those two games as well, Miller would have finished as the RB11, aka Jay Ajayi.

Community: “D’Onta Foreman will steal touches from Miller in 2017 and on.”

At the end of the third round in this year’s draft, the Texans drafted hometown back D’Onta Foreman. Reading the tea leaves, it looks as though Miller is in for a significant regression. The presence of Foreman will surely take a chunk out of Miller’s fantasy value and he may even be the heir apparent. He is a big back who will be used on third-and-short and inside the red zone. He may even be used on whole drives to spell Miller because he cannot handle the workload.

Me: “D’Onta who?”

D’Onta Foreman is not a workhorse back. He is not a premiere option in the rushing game. Foreman was brought into Houston to replace Alfred Blue and be a goal line option. Foreman’s role in the Texans offense is Mike Tolbert 2.0. He is not going to spell Miller for drives at a time. He is not going to get three carries in a row on 1st and goal on the one.

“But Addison, if that’s the case, Miller will score fewer touchdowns in 2017.” To that I say, I doubt it. First of all, I labeled Miller as a Yard Monster in my “Identifying Player Groupings” article earlier this year. In short, Miller earned more than 50% of his fantasy production from rushing yards. His lack of touchdowns leads to Miller’s dependence on rushing yards for fantasy points. Miller is due for positive regression in the touchdown department after rushing for 8 scores in each of the past two years.

As for Foreman vulturing scores from Miller, I’m sure he gets a few, but not enough to kill Miller’s value. Miller is efficient inside the ten and has competed for touches there before. Last season, Miller saw 15 carries inside the ten, but Alfred Blue saw 10 as well. In 2015, Miller saw 11 carries inside the ten compared to Jay Ajayi’s 6. Miller is also competent inside the 5 as well. In 2016, he converted 5 of his 8 carries inside the 5 for a touchdown. In 2015, he converted 4 of his 6 carries for touchdowns inside the 5. Miller will get his carries on the goal line, with Foreman standing by in case he fails.

Additionally, Alfred Blue rushed 100 times in 2016. That shows Miller can still operate with another rusher behind him. If we assume Foreman takes Blue’s role, Foreman will be the one with 100 carries. When the Texans reduce Miller’s carries, Blue may see 80 rushes to Foreman’s 100, but that will not hurt Miller. Again, similar to the Falcons, Tevin Coleman saw 118 carries in 2016 to Freeman’s 227. Freeman still finished as the RB6, although workload dropped from 2015 to 2016 from 265 carries to 227.

Finally, Miller’s price has never been lower over the past year. He went from being a second round startup asset to a fourth round asset. Regarding players around him, he is being taken behind Joe Mixon and Dalvin Cook and just ahead of Derrick Henry. Call me crazy, give me Miller over Mixon.

Miller is a proven NFL back and has shown his elite capabilities. I view him as a top-10 back in dynasty which is a value at his current price. He can be had for a mid to late first round rookie pick and comes with much more reliability and upside. If I am an owner trying to buy Miller, I am using every perceived negative I can to buy cheap. Miller left a sour taste in owners’ mouths, and rookie fever is real this time of year. Buy low now while you can, you will be thankful you did.

 

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ahayes

Penn State college student and Steelers fan. Been playing fantasy football since 2009 and dynasty football since 2016. Numbers don’t lie, people do. Co-Host of the Super Flexible Podcast. @Amazehayes_DFF on Twitter.

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2 Comments

    • Rob

      June 27, 2017

      I’m thinking of trading Miller for the 2nd pick. I have David Johnson, Davonte Freeman with Paul Perkins and Bilal Powell in the wings. I think I need a high powered WR to go with Julio, Allen Robinson, Crabtree and Edelman. #2 needs players and shouldn’t affect me. It looks like a deep RB draft and a light WR draft. I draft 9 of 10. Thoughts?

       
      Reply
      • Addison Hayes

        June 28, 2017

        If you can trade Miller for Corey Davis, I would definitely do that. And then you can address RBs with your other first round pick if I’m reading this right. However, with the core you have now, I’m loving the depth at both positions to have Miller and Crab as your RB3 and WR3 is pretty good.

         
        Reply

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