This week's fantasy football sleeper comes on the heels of a departed Reggie Bush, who is taking his talents from the warm weather of South Beach to the cold and bitter steel city of Detroit. It's no doubt that Bush made the most of his opportunity with the Dolphins, tallying the first 1000-yard season of his career in 2012, after having spent the majority of his time with the Saints. But with Bush now headed up north, Miami's backfield will have a much different look in 2013. And that difference is going to mean great things for the Dolphins and fantasy football owners alike.
Ladies and Gentleman, I give you second-year running back Lamar Miller.
Before I get into the many reasons why I expect Miller to be a big fantasy option for the upcoming fantasy year, lets go back and take a quick look at his history as a member of the Miami Hurricanes:
Per Wikipedia: After he was redshirted in 2009, Miller saw his first game action in 2010. He played in 11 games with one start and rushed for 646 yards on 108 carries with six touchdowns. Miller took over as the Hurricanes starting running back in 2011. During the 2011 season, Miller became the first Miami running back since Willis McGahee in 2002 to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season.
Aside from breaking McGahee's rushing record, Miller's two-year stint with THE U was a productive one in terms of yards-per-carry, having averaged 6.0 off 108 rushing attempts in 2010 and 5.6 off 227 attempts in 2011. Miller was also heavily involved in scoring, having compiled 16 total touchdowns in those two years.
Miller's draft stock continued to rise before the 2011 Combine. SI.com's Tony Pauline labeled Miller as one of the players who could surprise at the workouts:
Lamar Miller, RB, Miami -- Miller has not let postseason shoulder surgery slow him down. The speedy back recently returned to training after rehabbing his shoulder and has been posting times in the mid-4.3s.
Miller wound up leading all running backs with an official forty-yard dash time of 4.40. This propelled him up as one of the top running backs behind only Trent Richardson. In my opinion, the Dolphins got a steal by taking Miller in the fourth round (97th overall).
Miller's 2012 season was a quiet one, which was to be expected. With Bush leading the way as the starter, Miller battled with Daniel Thomas for No. 2 snaps. He wound up finishing the season with 51 attempts for 250 yards. However, he continued to show productivity when given the chance, averaging a very healthy 4.9 yards an attempt. In comparison, Thomas continued his descent into obscurity by failing to reach a 4.0 average for the second-straight year.
At 5'11/212, Miller has the size to be a starter in the NFL (Bush is 203). And he obviously plays much faster than his weight would dictate. Throughout the offseason, Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland has heaped praise on Miller, saying he's "got very good hands" and also thought "he did a very good job in his pass protection." The latter comment is huge for a player who is hoping to be an every-down back. While the Dolphins have yet to officially name Miller the starter, it would be no surprised to me to see him win the job over Thomas and a possible late-round pick.
The biggest reason why I think Miller can succeed?
The passing game. The Dolphins went full steam ahead in free agency, signing top wideout Mike Wallace, re-signing Brian Hartline as their No. 2, bringing in Brandon Gibson as their possible No. 3 and signing Dustin Keller away from division-rival Jets. (Let me catch my breath). The Dolphins went from one of the worst receiving corps in the league last year to one of the units to have the highest ceiling in terms of talent. Add the rookie year Ryan Tannehill now has under his belt and there should be enough to keep defenses from stacking the box, allowing more lanes to open up for Miller to run through.
Where would I rank Miller as of now?
He's a very borderline RB2/RB3 right now, with the upside of an RB2. Barring an injury, all the signs are pointing to him starting in the backfield in Week One. And if he can continue to excel in pass protection, he could hold off competition for third-down work. We have yet to see him be a strong option in PPR leagues. He only caught 27 passes in college and 6 last year. But if HC Joe Philbin uses Miller in the same manner he used Bush in 2012, Miller will be a strong option to consider in all scoring leagues.