To the surprise of anyone who formulates opinions about players through box score analysis, Lamar Miller has remained the Miami Dolphins‘ feature back during OTAs while Knowshon Moreno has been relegated to third-down duties.
After a 1,000-yard rushing campaign with the Denver Broncos, Moreno was said to be the savior to Miami’s 26th-ranked running game. Meanwhile, Miller was said to have fallen out of favor with the Dolphins after failing to live up to his preseason hype in 2013.
Instead of emerging as a star during his first season as a starter, like some boldly predicted, Miller was too often a non-factor, rushing for 20 yards or less in seven games. But, judging by allotted practice reps, the Dolphins haven’t lost faith in the homegrown product.
Miller, who was born in Miami and attended college at The U (Miami), remains the starter for good reason. Even after last year’s underwhelming performance, Miller is a high-ceiling player who is more than capable of breaking out in his third season.
Like quarterback Ryan Tannehill, whose development was impeded by the worst pass protection in team history in 2013, Miller has yet to get a fair shake. Miami’s run blocking, which attempted to employ a zone-blocking scheme with mostly power-blocking personnel, was actually noticeably worse than its ability to protect the quarterback at times. And that is a bold statement all things considered.
According to Pro Football Focus, only three teams accumulated a worse run-blocking grade than Miami in 2013. Miller never had a chance in several outings, including Week 10, when the line’s ineptitude paved the way for a measly two rushing yards, the lowest rushing output in franchise history.
Tannehill’s transparent pre-snap jargon, set in motion by former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, didn’t do the ineffective front any favors. When Tannehill shouted “go-go” before the snap, the Dolphins, seemingly without variation, ran the football. This allowed defenses to key on the runner without accounting for a possible pass.
Sherman abandoning the run when it was initially contained further prevented Miller from consistency. The Dolphins passed on 62.99 percent of their offensive snaps in 2013, which was the fourth-highest figure in the league.
The excuses as to why Miller wasn’t as effective as he projected to be are ample, but they don’t provide any assurance that Miller is the guy moving forward. Even if it wasn’t entirely his fault, Miller has yet to live up to his potential in the NFL.
Possessing the breakaway speed to become a lethal home-run threat with adequate blocking, Miller has the talent to not only remain a starter, but to surface as one of the most productive runners in football. He just hasn’t pieced it all together yet.
Moreno, on the other hand, is the more solidified veteran. His 1,038 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in 2013 give him a decisive advantage statistically. There was a reason why the Broncos were willing to let him walk in free agency and that his market was relatively cold before Miami signed him for only one year, though. His numbers, however impressive, were unquestionably inflated.
The Broncos’ high-powered passing game, engineered by perhaps the greatest quarterback in NFL history during his most prolific season of an illustrious career, forced defenses to line up in the nickel and dime almost exclusively. Opponents deviated from their base with five or more defensive backs on 78 percent of Denver’s rushing attempts — the highest percentage in the NFL and nearly double that of the league average.
The Broncos’ offensive line was a formidable group as well, finishing eighth in run-blocking productivity by Pro Football Focus’ estimate.
Essentially, Moreno was in the perfect situation to produce while Miller was in the worst. Yet, Moreno only averaged 0.3 more yards per carry, broke only one more tackle despite 64 more attempts and, frankly, left something to be desired given the circumstances.
Don’t get me wrong; Moreno brings enough receiving and pass-protection prowess to improve the Dolphins’ passing game. He’s just no savior to the club’s shortcomings on the ground, baring drastic improvement.
Miller, despite what the numbers say, still has more potential. If you believed he was a legitimate breakout candidate in advance of 2013, there’s really no reason to feel otherwise heading into 2014. He should remain the feature back in Miami until he struggles in an environment conducive for success.
Cody Strahm is an NFL Senior Writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter.