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Which Anthony Miller Should We Expect in 2020?

Two years in the NFL, two years outside of the top-50 best wide receivers in fantasy football. That’s the quickest of ways I can think of to give you an overly simplified summary of what Anthony Miller’s career has been up to the end of the 2019 season. It’s not pretty and gets less so when you consider he will be playing his third season at 26 years of age. But is there still time for Miller to make amends and turn into a viable fantasy weapon?

I am inclined to think Miller still has plenty of time and seasons ahead, and judging by his late-season exploits, I also believe in Miller reaching that level of play next year for a longer span of games. That being said, it’s worth looking at where Miller comes from, what he’s career has looked like in Chicago, and what we can expect from him going forward looking at the data.

Getting To The NFL As A Second-Round Draftee

The Chicago Bears drafted Anthony Miller two years ago in the 2018 NFL draft with the 51st overall pick. He was the sixth receiver to hear his name called that year. Since the year 2000, this is how second-round receivers have fared in the NFL in terms of total season PPR.

As previously mentioned, not so good. The 120.3 and 129.5 would have gone for averages of 7.5 and 8.1 PPR/G on full 16-game seasons but Miller missed two games in 2018 so he actually finished his first two years as a pro with averages of 8.6 and 8.1 PPR per game.

When compared to the other second-round rookie WRs from the 2018 class, Miller’s numbers in his first seasons are encouraging.

While Miller had a relatively good rookie year compared to his peers, his second season was a disappointment.

Miller could only raise his season-long tally by 9.2 PPR (7%) while all the rest except Dante Pettis (who only played eight full games in 2019) improved their fantasy scores at least 36% over their rookie seasons.

Should this be a reason for concern, or is it enough improvement to consider Miller as a player on the right path to reach higher levels of play? Let’s dig deeper.

Miller’s Establishment In Chicago’s Offense

Although the improvement wasn’t mind-blowing, Miller was able to get better numbers in his second year than he did in his first. The fantasy return was lower on a per-game basis (8.1 PPR to 8.6), but he did raise all of his usage numbers this past season.

Miller’s Expected Points went from 6.7 in 2018 to 8.5 in 2019. While he was much less efficient as a sophomore (negative 0.4 FPOE compared to positive 1.7 as a rookie), the opportunities were there, and they should continue, given Chicago’s WR depth.

Miller played the second-highest percentage of the team’s snaps over the 2019 season only behind clear No. 1 WR Allen Robinson. There doesn’t seem to be a surefire threat to his current No. 2 role in this attack.

In fact, Miller’s snaps increased steadily almost the entire year, from Week 1 to the bye, and then from Week 9 until the end of the season (he left Chicago’s last game injured, thus the low snap count at 20 in Week 17).

Weekly Improvement Through The Season

If you read the section above, you already know that volume wasn’t a problem for Miller last season, but that came with a drop in efficiency from his rookie year. In fact, Miller finished his second season with 0.4 points below expectation — that ranked 155th among all NFL wide receivers.

On the bright side of things, Miller improved his efficiency during the second half of the season.

While Miller averaged negative 0.8 FPOE during his first eight games, he was able to outperform expectations by 0.1 points per game during his last eight. Dropping the Week 17 outing against Minnesota (remember, he had to leave the game early), the average would get slightly better to 0.3 FPOE/G in the other seven games from weeks 10 to 17.

That turnaround clearly showed in his weekly PPR scores, with two finishes inside the top-12 and another one as a WR2 with two other (weeks 11 and 14) also close to that level of play.

While playing with QB Mitchell Trubisky may not help Miller’s chances of reaching the top-tier of wide receivers, the truth is that Miller was a more efficient connection for Trubisky than Robinson was.

What To Expect Going Forward

Using the RotoViz Screener I looked for comparable two-season stretches, just to find some players who started their careers on a similar path to the Bears wide receiver and build a mental image of what could be next for him. The resulting list reveals a wide range of outcomes, though with some encouraging upside.

Let’s see what these players did in their third year in the NFL.

Chris Godwin won about 16% of his owners their best ball leagues1 despite missing the all-important Week 16. Chris Givens had a third year to forget and was out of the NFL just 12 months later. Those are the upper and lower boundaries we can put on Miller’s 2020 season. Curtis Samuel’s 2019 and Adam Humphries’ 2017 seasons probably represent the most likely outcomes.

Samuel finished his third year as WR36 racking up 171.7 fantasy points. Doug Baldwin finished as the WR41 with 158.4 PPR (he’d have a similar fourth year before exploding in his fifth season as a pro and be the WR10 in 2015). Humphries ranked as WR52 in 2017 with 128.7 PPR points and would improve to WR24 in his fourth season.

Miller’s current ADP in best ball leagues sits at an average of 150.8, or WR51. Of the comparable players studied above, Humphries and Givens went undrafted in virtually every draft as third-year players. Godwin had an ADP of 55.2, Samuel of 113.9, and Baldwin of 237.2. That means Miller’s current ADP is on par with his closest comparables — his price is fair, but probably undervalues his upside if he can put together a Godwin-esque season.

If he keeps falling down draft boards, given his late-season improvement and what the historical data says of similar players, Miller can become one of the steals of the season.

Image Credit: Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Anthony Miller.

  1. Nearly double the expected win rate of 8.3%.  (back)

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