Free Lamar! July 19, 2016  |  Chet


Editor’s Note: Congratulations to Akash Bhatia for taking first place in Round 1 of The Fake Football Writing Contest! Here is his entry on Lamar Miller. 

 

My mom always told me to pay attention to my surroundings. While I never really did listen to her much (sorry Mom!), her advice applies to fantasy football.

Since I have followed the NFL, one franchise has been added to the league. That franchise is the Houston Texans. Since then, they have not won a playoff game against a team not named the Cincinnati Bengals. Seriously.

But things are looking up. Despite starting the 2015 season 2-5, they finished as AFC South champions thanks to a 7-2 run. They were, however, obliterated in the playoffs due in no small part to the poor quarterback play of Brian Hoyer. Once a Brown always a Brown.

The Texans revamped their offense during the offseason, signing former Peyton Manning pupil Brock Osweiler and free agent running back Lamar Miller to complement all-world receiving threat DeAndre Hopkins. While for fantasy purposes Hopkins is locked in as a WR1 and Osweiler is nothing more than a fringe QB2, Lamar Miller is the more interesting case.

According to ESPN ADP, Miller is going 18th overall and as the RB8. At this price, Miller is a steal George Clooney and the Ocean’s squad would be salivating at.

Why should you hop on the Lamar bandwagon? Well, the two primary ways for ball carriers to rack up points are yards and touchdowns. Over the past two years, Miller has averaged 4.81 yards per carry. This is better than what Le’Veon Bell (when he’s not smoking weed) and Adrian Peterson (when he’s not beating his son – seriously what is wrong with NFL players?) have done on the field in the same time frame.

Miller found the end zone frequently as well last year, as he led all qualified backs in red zone efficiency as he converted 30 percent of his red zone carries into touchdowns.

Miller is no slouch in the passing game either. He set career highs in catches (47) and receiving yards (397) in 2015. According to NumberFire’s net expected points metric, Miller was the 4th best receiving back amongst those that toted the rock at least 150 times. Pro Football Focus even graded him as their third-best pass-blocking back.

This is important because it makes him almost impossible to take off the field: a remarkable runner in the open field and red zone, a terrific pass catcher, and an excellent blocker.

 

 

So why isn’t Miller going as the first overall running back in fantasy drafts this year? Well, Miami was quite possibly the worst fantasy situation any running back could find himself in. It’s like Ryan Leaf and football: doomed to fail.

For fantasy football running backs, volume is king. Even the worst NFL-caliber running back would be fantasy relevant if he lead the league in touches. Miller’s misfortune is that he was criminally underused in South Beach.

Last year, Miller only carried the ball 12.1 times per game, including six games in which he received fewer than ten carries in a game.

In fact, Lamar is more effective when shouldering the load. In his career, he has a 5.15 YPC in games in which carried the ball at least 14 times (in 20 games) but just a 3.67 YPC in which he has received fewer than 14 carries (in 28 games).

Miller’s efficiency is even more remarkable when you consider the offensive line he ran behind. PFF graded Miami’s offensive line last year as the second worst overall and dead last in run blocking. This is confirmed by Football Outsider, which had Miami as a bottom 5 run blocking unit last year.

Clearly, Miami was a nightmare situation for any running back. But how does Houston’s situation compare?

Like night and day my friend.

Since Bill O’Brien became the Texans head coach two years they have ranked 1st and 5th in rushing attempts. This is despite the fact that legendary running back Arian Foster, has missed a combined 15 games during that 2-year time frame. Last year, O’Brien stayed committed to the run game despite having a collection of ineffective running backs including Alfred Blue and Jonathan Grimes.

Since O’Brien took over, Houston has had 1023 carries compared to only 743 for Miami. That comes out to a difference of about 140 per season. Miller could see up to 100 of those additional carries as he transitions to his new team.

Not only that, this Texans squad has proven that they will continue to feed their workhorse. In games in which Foster has started over the past four years he has seen an average of 24.9 touches. Miller saw only 15.1 touches per game last year. If Miller gets ten additional touches per game, he will have nearly 160 more touches.

That’s like giving him an additional half a season’s worth of games!

 

 

While Miller may not necessarily approach the monster number of touches that Foster saw, there is no question that he is the feature back. Scatback Tyler Ervin is too small (192 pounds) to steal significant touches and the rest of the group is uninspiring.

But wait, there’s more! The offensive line play should be much improved as well compared to Miami’s 32nd run blocking ranked line. Houston’s was the 18th best run-blocking unit last year according to Football Outsider. The Texans also signed two linemen with starting experience in and even spent their second round pick on a center. Even if the offensive line does not improve with these additions, these moves indicate that the team remains committed to running the football.

Some analysts have predicted the Texans will be even more run heavy this year. Remember that winning streak in the second half of the last season that allowed the Texans to win the AFC South at 9-7? It occurred at a time when the Texans shored up their previously leaky defense and renewed their emphasis on the run. With a young, inexperienced quarterback, it makes sense for them to complement their defense led by certified beast JJ Watt with a ground and pound offensive attack.

If nothing else, the Vegas projected win total for the Texans of 8 (2 games more than the 6 wins the Dolphins had last year), should put Miller in more favorable game flow situations.

I recently watched a video by FantasyPros talking about how Miller could be a bust this year. The primary argument was that, “Miler has been a mediocre running back his entire career.” The dude is a truck at 225 pounds and runs a lightning quick 4.4 40. Heck, I’d rather a truck run into me than Lamar.

“Pay attention to your surroundings,” my mom said. The difference in the fantasy environment of South Beach and Houston could mean all the difference for Lamar Miller.

 

 

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