When updating my rankings after the NFL draft, the biggest risers were obvious. Highly-drafted rookies who landed in situations where they’re expected to see lots of opportunity, such as Rashaad Penny, immediately became more valuable. But so too did players who dodged the bullet of extra competition being added. While Marlon Mack and Kenyan Drake have both been the focus of post-draft hype, Lamar Miller seems to be flying under the radar.
Let’s get this out of the way first: Miller was boring last year. He only broke 100 yards from scrimmage in one game, and scored a total of just six TDs. He had games of 29, 22, and 18 points, and then nothing else over 13. His per-game production dipped from the previous season and he enters 2018 another year older.
That being said, over the past two season with the Texans, Miller ranks 12th in overall expected rushing and receiving points among all RBs. If Miller can rank somewhere in the top-20 in expected points this year, then his current RB29 price would look like a bargain. So what’s to stop that from happening?
I was a big believer in D’Onta Foreman heading into his rookie season. In dynasty, I’m still holding on to Foreman, but in best ball and redraft, the idea that he’s going to take over the backfield this year has some issues with it. The main hurdle Foreman needs to clear is recovery from an injury that is more concerning than many people are aware of. Dr. Jeff notes in his article:
The 69 percent that did return averaged only 75 percent of games in their first year back and 82 percent of games during their second year back. Playing time and athletic performance were both significantly decreased during the first year back. By the second year back, performance was not significantly different than baseline. … So what does this mean for Foreman and his dynasty owners? It means that there’s a greater than 20 percent chance his career is over. If he does return, the odds are extremely high that he’s not going to be at 100 percent during the 2018 season. 2019 is the earliest realistic expectation for him to be back where he was athletically.
There has been no definitive news on Foreman’s recovery. Though there have been reports that it has been going well, the team is still just “hoping” that he is ready for training camp. Even if Foreman does return in time for Week 1, it’s reasonable to wonder if he’ll be at full speed.
Even with Foreman in the fold last year, Miller exceeded two thirds of the snaps at RB in the games when he was healthy. While Foreman played well and looked deserving of more touches in 2017, the coaching staff still leaned on Miller.
The Texans didn’t have a draft pick until the third round, so it was unlikely they would add a top-shelf RB in the draft, but with such a deep class it was expected several exciting prospects would still be available for them. After not adding any RBs in the draft or free agency, Miller appears to be a lock for significant work, even if Foreman can come back and share some of the workload. The numbers are skewed a bit by Miller’s late-season injury, but his production was actually stronger in games where Foreman was being used.
Miller has generally been considered a disappointment during his time with the Texans, but his decline in rushing efficiency from his time with the Dolphins has largely been offset by his increase in volume, with one major difference: touchdowns.Miller has also lost a few receptions since changing teams, but TDs have been the main difference in his scoring.1 While the Texans have been relatively pass-happy around the goal line,2 TD rate is a highly variable stat, and any offensive improvement could provide a lot more scoring opportunities.
The Texans played half of last season with terrible quarterbacks, a banged-up defense, and injuries on the offensive line. This offseason, the Texans brought in three offensive linemen right at the start of free agency and then drafted another. Deshaun Watson is on track for training camp, and J.J. Watt is also on track to start Week 1.
Perhaps the most positive development though is the Texans’ cupcake schedule. Warren Sharp predicts the Texans schedule to be the easiest in the league using adjusted Vegas win totals, and they are very likely to improve on their win total from 2017 after underperforming their Pythagorean win expectation by a full game.
The Texans were linked to several mid-round RBs before the draft, but didn’t add anyone at the position. Foreman’s health is still a question mark, and there’s little other competition on the roster. Even in what was considered a disappointing season for Miller, he actually still managed a slightly above-average win rate in MFL10s despite being drafted in the third round as the RB12. He’s now being drafted in the sixth round as the RB29. Miller has climbed up my rankings now that the threat of additional rookie competition is gone, and with a depressed price and an easy schedule, it shouldn’t take much for him to pay dividends.