Today marked the first day of the NFL Free Agency. In case you weren’t watching, the Miami Dolphins are going after it. They signed former Pittsburgh WR Mike Wallace, a certified baller capable of outrunning everybody on the field at anytime, and then added in talented young linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler to an already talented young defense. This is a team on the rise. QB Ryan Tannehill has the required skills (athleticism and a cannon), but probably won’t be drafted in a lot of fantasy leagues that start 1 QB, but absolutely keep him on your radar in 2QB leagues as a QB3 with upside. His presence though, coupled with the addition of Wallace AKA 60 Minutes, means the field will be effectively stretched, opening up running lanes for the backs. It remains to be seen what will happen with the OL and that situation needs to be monitored, but this is a backfield that could hold some value in fantasy drafts.
Reggie Bush is a free agent and not going to be resigned, leaving 2nd year RB Lamar Miller and 3rd year RB Daniel Thomas as the available options. At this moment, Miller is the favorite to be the every down back, with Thomas (or a Free Agent signing) spelling him for his own benefit (rest and health). He was used sparsely in his rookie year. Over 13 games played he accumulated 250 yards rushing and 1 TD on 51 attempts, with 6 receptions for 45 yards.
Though he’s not coming off some incredible season, the 21 year old looks poised to do damage. First off he has a total blue chip pedigree. His High School career ended with recognition as a Parade All-American (along with fellow 2nd year NFL RB Trent Richardson and Bryce Brown) and a 4 star ranking on Rivals.com. He went on to the University of Miami, redshirting his first year in 2009, playing sparingly in 2010, and then in 2011, as the full-time starter, he reminded everybody why he was a 4 star recruit and blew up for over 1,000 yards as the full time starter. At the NFL Combine he confirmed that his speed was real, running the fastest 40 time out of all running backs (gamebreakers David Wilson and LaMichael James present) with a 4.4 flat. The talent is real, and he’s not lacking for confidence either. He thought he should have been the first back selected. T-Rich and Doug Martin looked pretty damn awesome last year, as did Alfred Morris, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he was right.
Fellow Miami backfield-mate Daniel Thomas has shown flashes of skills, but for the most part has been a disappointment, and the team looks poised to move past him, at least as the starter. He’s not a strong fantasy pick unless the situation shifts.
If you are looking back on those 250 yards rushing in 2012 we mentioned earlier and saying “well that’s not very much”, you are right, it isn’t very much, but don’t worry. Last season’s statistics are not the end all be all in player projection. We like to take a look at talent and opportunity.
TIP: The best indicator of possible future success, injury histories aside, is a combination of talent and opportunity. If the talent matches up with the opportunity, then there will be success. If the talent is there, but the opportunity is not, or visa versa, the results can be bad. Take Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald for example. After 7 straight seasons over 940 receiving yards (three over 1,400) and 6+ TD, he laid a fantasy egg in 2012 with 798 receiving yards and 4 TD (typically top 5 WR off the board that year, yikes for his owners). Did he suddenly lose his talent? Uh no, and if you ever watched the Cardinals and saw him running around making the most of it, you too know that Larry’s still got it. Now look at his situation. His quarterbacks (Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley) and offensive line were pathetic. He also routinely saw double coverage and defensive schemes designed to shut him out. The opportunity was just not there, and his fantasy owners suffered for it. While you are thinking about who to draft this off-season, make sure you pay close attention to the player’s talent and what kind of opportunity they have.
For Lamar Miller, the talent is real, and if the Dolphins don’t end up bringing in free agent running back to challenge for carries, the opportunity looks to be all his. There aren’t many every down running backs anymore, so that raises his value a bit. In an every down role last season Reggie Bush ran for 986 and 6 TD, with 292 receiving yards and 2 TD. Not too shabby. Lamar is not on Reggie’s level catching the ball, but because he’s in a rising offense, on a team head coached by former Packers OC Joe Philbin, you can expect that the ball will still be thrown his way. His speed and cutting ability make him a good fit in the zone blocking scheme they run too. Lamar Miller is our #23 RB right now, a high-end RB3 with upside.