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Can Lamar Miller Launch Himself into the Elite Fantasy RB Class?

Lamar Miller Fantasy 2016

Not many offensive playmakers in the NFL have been as blatantly underutilized as former Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller. Although he was forced to deal with a myriad of coaches and coordinators who seemingly refused to prescribe him a steady dose of carries, Miller still proved to be one of the most effective backs in the league. Now, after spending the first four seasons of his young career in South Beach, Miller is taking his talents elsewhere for the 2016 campaign. After testing the free agent market earlier this offseason, the ex-Miami Hurricane ultimately decided to rock a Houston Texans uniform during the upcoming season, inking a four-year, $26 million contract back in March.

This move undoubtedly has major implications not only for the Texans’ offensive outlook, but for fantasy football owners as well. Following years of indisputable misuse in Miami, the ultra-talented Lamar Miller finds himself in an optimal position for success in 2016, and he has a legitimate chance at finishing this season as fantasy football’s top running back in every format.

Small Doses of Success in South Beach

Lamar MillerBefore diving into my statistical expectations for the 2016 NFL season, we should take a look at Miller’s recent productivity for the Dolphins. What really stands out is just how fruitful his numbers were these past two seasons, despite being incarcerated in a corrupt backfield under former offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Since 2014, not only has he played in all 32 possible games, demonstrating exceptional durability from the RB position, but Miller averaged an impressive 4.8 yards per carry and 7.8 yards per reception. In 2014, Miller received the 15th-most carries in the NFL (216), while managing to rush for the 10th-most yards. In similar fashion, he carried the ball 18th-most in the league during 2015 (194), but accumulated the 13th-most rushing yards.

His overall fantasy value was bolstered with solid receiving totals, but this goes to show that for unknown reasons, he simply wasn’t trusted as a true workhorse in Miami. In fact, Miller was not given more than 20 carries in a single contest in 2015. Nevertheless, his underwhelming touch totals over that two-year span couldn’t hold him back from RB1 status: Miller finished as the 9th and 6th overall RB, respectively, in standard scoring formats.

Bill O’Brien’s Tendencies

If Lamar Miller has already been an underappreciated fantasy asset when given an average of 247.5 touches over the past two years, just how big of a star could he be with a healthier workload in Houston? The way I see it, Miller could finally detonate in 2016. Since the two-year timeframe has been my go-to sample size, it works out nicely that Bill O’Brien has been the Head Coach in Houston for that same period of time. In those two seasons, Houston’s running game has been the focal point of his offensive gameplan. In 2014, the Texans rushed for a league-high 551 attempts, then ranked 5th in 2015 with 472 attempts, most recently done with a slew of replacement-level backs. Even without a healthy Arian Foster for the majority of last season, O’Brien’s Texans have still rushed for a whopping average of 511.5 attempts over the past two years. This run-heavy attack obviously bodes well for Houston’s newest backfield addition. Last season, their running game wasn’t very effective even with the high volume of carries, averaging 3.7 yards per carry and a measly 7 touchdowns as a group. The speedy Miller figures to give this ground game a discernible boost in 2016.

Raise your glass, it may finally be “Miller Time”

Only 25 years old with limited mileage on his resumé, Miller heads into the upcoming season with what looks to be a substantial amount of carries on his plate. After garnering only about 12 carries per game in 2015, Houston will likely hand the ball to Miller in a much more consistent manner. In 2014, in only 13 healthy starts, Arian Foster received 260 carries out of the backfield. The Texans have already said Miller will play a versatile role on their offense, and he surely won’t be a liability in pass protection either: Pro Football Focus rated him as a top-3 pass blocker last year. In training camp, our own Jody Smith noted that Miller has “looked as good as advertised, taking some handoffs and showcasing his ability to be a pass-catching weapon.” These pieces of information only support the notion that Miller will likely be Houston’s centerpiece in 2016.

I’m fully expecting Miller to receive just as much work as Foster did in 2014, if not more, seeming that Foster was injured for 3 weeks. During that campaign, Foster averaged 4.8 yards per carry – Miller’s exact average over the past two seasons. If Lamar Miller can replicate that same YPC mark with a minimum of 260 rushing attempts, giving him roughly 16 carries per contest, he’s certainly in for a 1250+ yard rushing season. Mix in his dynamic receiving abilities (42.5 catches + 336 yards per season in ’14-’15), and we’re looking at a floor of nearly 1600 yards from scrimmage to go along with 10 touchdowns or so (he’s averaged 9.5 the past two seasons). In 2015 standard leagues, that would have placed him behind only Adrian Peterson and Devonta Freeman in points scored, equating to the RB3 overall. But, in all honesty, exceeding those statistics in 2016 seems more likely than not for a player of Miller’s caliber.

So, what is Lamar Miller’s 2016 draft stock?

According to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, Lamar Miller currently has a standard league ADP of 10th overall (RB5), but assuming he stays upright for another full season, I think this is his baseline in 2016. With one-year sample studs Todd Gurley and David Johnson, rookie Ezekiel Elliot, and aging Adrian Peterson the only backs going ahead of him, you can make the case that Miller is the safest RB on the board even at the No. 1 overall pick of your draft. His coaches and inexperienced quarterback will unquestionably lean on the ground game this season, and as you may know, Houston fields one of the league’s best wideouts who demands serious attention every play.

Miller currently sits as the 5th overall RB in Gridiron Experts’ 2016 rankings, a very reasonable price tag for an explosive young back. Having said that, I won’t be surprised at all if Lamar Miller thrusts himself into fantasy football’s top RB spot in his first season as a Houston Texan, and neither should you.

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