A rising tide lifts all boats. Texan quarterback Deshaun Watson was that rising tide in 2017. And the Texans skill players were the boats.
Texans running back Lamar Miller was one of the biggest beneficiaries from Watson’s incredible (albeit short) rookie season. Miller averaged a solid 15.4 PPR points per game in Watson’s six starts and just 10.1 with Tom Savage and T.J. Yates starting.
Miller was a stud in Miami. He was efficient, averaging 5.1 and 4.5 yards per carry in his final two seasons there to go along with 19 total touchdowns. His YPC in Miami was inflated by his explosive runs (longs of 97 and 85).
After landing in Houston in free agency, many thought he was primed to step right into Arian Foster’s old role. He did receive the touches (21 per game) but his efficiency plummeted. In 2016 his YPC dropped to 4.0 and he only scored six touchdowns. The biggest drop off came in his explosiveness, as his longest run in 2016 was only 45 yards.
Perhaps Miller lost a step in the offseason before arriving in Houston, but it’s hard to imagine a 24-year-old running back with fewer than 700 rushes losing the juice in his legs. And when we look at his game speed, we can see that this hasn’t been the case the past two years.
Miller has posted a well above-average game speed among running backs in 2016 and 2017, according to airyards.com. He also had a faster game speed than second year-teammate, D’Onta Foreman last season.
So we know Miller is still an explosive player. But we also know the Texans have not been an explosive offense in the past two years, and this is where I think Miller has been misjudged.
Watson boosted the entire offense of the Texans. Watson averaged 5.3 air yards per attempt while Tom Savage averaged just 4.1. The team averaged 145 yards rushing in every Deshaun Watson start while averaging just 96 yards without him. Miller also found the end zone four times with Watson leading the offense and only twice without him. The offense as a whole was simply much more explosive with Watson at the helm, and it was obvious.
Having an offense that struggles with downfield passing allows the defense to leave players closer to the line of scrimmage. This hurt Miller much more than people realize in 2017. He ran against light fronts (one fewer defender in the box) on just 16 percent of his rushes, 61st in the NFL according to Player Profiler. Just to compare, Todd Gurley saw a light box on 74 percent of his rushes, 4th in the NFL.
Miller averaged 5.3 yards per carry on light box rushes versus Gurley’s 5.0. I’m not saying Miller is a more explosive player than Gurley, but if he had an extra 130 carries against light fronts, his efficiency would spike.
Will Fuller and Deshaun Watson are the keys to Miller seeing light boxes. Fuller and Watson routinely connected on deep passes in their four starts together. Fuller grabbed a ridiculous seven touchdowns in those four games as well. If defenses want to contain Fuller and the Texans’ explosive passing offense, they’ll need to keep defenders deeper and out of the box.
This will give Miller more runs against light fronts, boosting his efficiency and giving him more opportunities to break explosive runs. This was evident last season, as Miller averaged 18.4 PPR fantasy points in games with both Fuller and Watson on the field. If the Texans offense stays healthy and clicks like it did last season, Miller will be efficient.
Miller will be facing competition from Foreman, but this might have to wait until week six. Foreman is reportedly set to open up the season on the P.U.P. list. In those first six weeks, Miller will face four of his easiest run defenses in the Patriots, Giants, Cowboys, and Bills. If (and when) Miller starts the season hot, he could have a stranglehold on the job by the time Foreman is back from injury.
Even if Miller faces more competition for carries, he provides a terrific floor as a receiver. Miller has 76 catches over the last two seasons and is the only running back in the league with no drops over that stretch. Combine that reception average of 38 with his two-year carry average of 253 and you’re looking at a near-300 touch running back in the 5th round. Sounds like a steal to me.Download the Free GoingFor2 App by Clicking Here...