One major question facing GM Dennis Hickey this offseason as he flirts with potentially signing Knowshon Moreno and contemplates selecting a running back during May’s draft, is what do the Miami Dolphins have in Lamar Miller?
It’s not an easy question to answer at this juncture of Miller’s career. After a rookie season in which he played only sparingly, and a sophomore campaign in which he flashed intriguing talent, but also inconsistency behind an abhorrent offensive line, Miller remains a question mark in Miami.
Banking on Miller to become the Dolphins’ workhorse back in 2014 would be a huge leap of faith. However, the criticism he’s received from his body of work thus far might be exaggerated.
For one, Miller’s offensive line didn’t exactly do him any favors in 2013. According to Pro Football Focus, the Dolphins’ much maligned offensive line ranked 29th in accumulative run blocking efficiency last season.
Of those teams that finished in the bottom 15 of the aforementioned rankings, only the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers boasted 1,000-yard rushers in Marshawn Lynch and Eddie Lacy respectively. Lynch and Lacy carried the ball nearly 300 times each, and both averaged just over 4.0 yards per carry.
On those 15 clubs with porous to below average run blocking ability, only eight running backs produced more rushing yards than Miami’s Miller. Of those eight backs, all but one runner had more carries than Miller.
The previous statistic acknowledges another deterrent — former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman‘s play-calling. Sherman was too quick to abandon the run throughout the season, as the Dolphins ran the football less frequently than all but three other teams. Miller’s 177 carries, meanwhile, were only the 27th most in the league.
These statistics and grading metrics clearly show that Miller was held back by the shoddy performance of his blocking and the flawed play-calling of the unit as a whole, just like most backs were in similar circumstances. Of course, numbers aren’t the only barometer; Miller’s film tells a story of its own.
While he flashed speed and explosiveness during his second season, Miller didn’t offer much physicality. Power is far from Miller’s forte, but occasionally lowering his shoulder to finish runs should become a more frequent element of his game moving forward. He also wasn’t a natural pass catcher out of the backfield, which could be seen on his tape and his underwhelming receiving statistics (26 catches for 170 yards in 2013), and failed to pick up blitzes in pass protection on occasion.
It would be impractical to claim that Miller is an elite talent with no deficiencies or that he’s close to a finished product, however. Miller doesn’t need to fit either distinction in 2014. Simply emerging as a dependable, productive back with the ability to change the outcome of a game on any given play — his specialty considering his breakaway speed — would suffice. Miller remains more than capable of living up to that billing in year three, especially if he’s greeted with a revamped offensive line and a new-found commitment to running the football.
None of that means Miller should be any more trustworthy as a starter or a co-starter entering the 2014 season. Although he hasn’t been given an ideal environment to grow as an NFL running back, he hasn’t made enough of the opportunities he has had to be invested in as building block for the Dolphins offensively.
Thus, this coming season will likely become a make-or-break campaign for Miller. That doesn’t mean he should be prematurely replaced as one of the offense’s top two ball-carries, nor does it mean a capable starter shouldn’t be signed or drafted to complement and compete. It simply means Miller remains a question mark in every sense of the phrase, with the ceiling to become one of the game’s most explosive runners and the floor of a back who never materializes into the projection of his potential.
Miller should remain a key contributor on the Dolphins’ offense in 2014 as either the unit’s feature or change-of-pace back. If Hickey and company can equip the offensive line with ideal personnel for the zone-blocking scheme, and new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor doesn’t allow Miller’s skill set to go to waste, expect substantial improvement from No. 26. There’s no reason why Miller can’t validate himself as starting material this coming season.