December 9, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller (26) runs with the ball after a catch in the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
During the offseason Jeff Ireland allowed Reggie Bush to leave Miami for a 4 year deal with the Lions, despite the running back making it clear that he would prefer to stay in Miami and was willing to take a hometown discount. This decision, and the subsequent lack of any additions at running back, has made it clear that Joe Philbin will give second year RB Lamar Miller every opportunity to start next season. Is Lamar Miller the real deal or just another gifted athlete not suited to be an every down back in the NFL?
College Career and Draft
A Miami native, Miller decided to play for the Hurricanes where he started as a true freshman picking up 646 yards on 108 carries, good for a 6.0 yards per carry average. In 2012, Miller continued to be impressive in his first and only season as a starter amassing 1272 yards on 227 carries (5.6 yds/carry) to go with 6 TD’s. After deciding to go to the draft, Miller continued to impress scouts with his athleticism and quickness running a 4.4 40 yard dash and measuring in at 5’ 10” and 212 lbs. Many scouts gave Miller a low 1st to high 2nd round grade but luckily for the Dolphins he continued to fall until the ‘Phins traded up to grab him with the 2nd pick of the 4th round. His fall was likely due to his only having one season as a college starter and concerns about a lingering shoulder injury.
Past Season and Analysis
In very limited time this past season, Miller showed flashes of his high potential. Over the course of the season he ran for 51 times for 250 yards, however it is very important to note that in games where he had 9 or more carries he averaged a ridiculous 6.4 yards per carry. Granted this only took place 3 times and in games against relatively weak run defenses (Buffalo, NYJ and Oakland), but regardless Miller looked explosive and capable of being an every down back. In examining the tape, Miller continues to look very impressive. His acceleration and ability to hit holes quickly allow him to get into space early and use his speed and elusiveness to turn short runs into big plays.
Additionally, he is much tougher to tackle than many give him credit for, often taking multiple defenders to bring him down and adding valuable yards to the end of his run. He occasionally tries to do a little too much when running on the outside but in general shows very good vision and improvisation when running. There has been some concern about his pad level being too high, but looking at some of the games later in the season he seems to have worked to correct this running in a lower and more compact manner. He is a great fit for the zone-blocking scheme that Mike Sherman installed this past season, showing the required ability to be patient and then hit the hole quickly.
However, Miller is not void of any weakness, his blocking ability is a definite weakness and he is often a liability in pass protection. For this reason, I would expect Mike Sherman to bring in Daniel Thomas on many plays which require the RB to pass protect thanks to his superior size and blocking ability. Additionally, while Miller has shown good hands and ability to make plays after the catch, his route running is questionable and he will have to work to improve that this season. I believe, however, he is athletic and driven enough to make this change and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him lineup in the slot several times this year.
It is very to difficult to predict whether Miller will blossom into the Franchise Running Back the Dolphins want him to be this year. There is no question he has all the tools and athleticism required to be an excellent NFL running back, but his lack of time and experience starting as an every down back in both college and the NFL make it tough to predict how he will perform and whether he will be durable enough for the role. I would expect Miami to start the season splitting carries between Miller and Thomas, but look for Miller to take a greater share of the carries as the year progresses.