Comparing collegiate prospects to past or present NFL players can be difficult to do at times because the prospect could have shades of multiple players in his game, but the University of Miami’s Lamar Miller is similar to Edgerrin James.
James was an exceptional running back at the U as well as in Indianapolis, where he had multiple 1,500 yard seasons. The slippery, smooth and dynamic Miller has a lot to offer to NFL teams as a tailback, and the comparisons to James don’t hurt one bit.
During his time at the Combine in February, Miller measured in for personnel men at 5’10 7/8″ and 212 pounds. Miller is smaller than James was coming out in 1999, as he checked in at 6’0″, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Smaller running backs are built low to the ground, thus are often the lower man, and are more difficult to find among the gargantuan offensive linemen that roam the trenches.
College football is littered with spread offenses nowadays, which often has quarterbacks in the shotgun and running backs receiving quick hand-offs that don’t have the same timing, rhythm or footwork that’s typically associated with pro-style schemes.
Fortunately for Miller, Al Golden and his staff used a lot of under-center snap exchanges with the quarterback and traditional forms of hand-offs that saw Miller have to work on his footwork and burst in effort to have rhythm with the quarterback.
The scheme also utilized several forms of run concepts, ranging from dive and lead to the inside and outside zone concepts that are seen in abundance throughout all of football.
While participating in the Combine drills in Indianapolis, Miller did an exceptional job of raising his stock through his 40-yard dash time. He ran a blazing 4.38, which was one of the fastest times in the entire Combine, and showed that he has tremendous straight-line speed. Although he doesn’t appear to run that fast in games, he’s still able to break long runs and be a home-run threat when carrying the ball.
Because of his size and weak ankles, Miller does not generate great power in his lower body to move the pile. He’s not the type of player that’s going to get a first down on third-and-short off a dive play, as he’s more likely to pick up those yards on a stretch play which is also used in that situation at times.
Miller often goes down after first contact because he’s easily tripped up at the feet. There have been instances when he’s held his ground and continued running, but this is usually because of his balance, which is very good, as opposed to his lower body strength. Lastly, he has a tendency to raise his pad level, which exposes him to contact.
Though Miller doesn’t have great power as a ball carrier, he has exceptional lateral agility. He is able to stretch plays laterally before making a quick cut back inside, which is typically seen and required of tailbacks on those types. He has a tendency to take too many steps when making a cut, however that’s not indicative of the lack of lateral agility; instead, it’s simply wasted movement.
Along with balance, vision is arguably the most important aspect of playing the running back position because designed plays don’t always go according to plan. When this occurs, the back should be able to make something out of nothing, and Miller has shown he can that at times.
Miller is able to identify the natural alley created on the backside of the play, which he can get to through a cut back. This is most important in a zone blocking scheme that utilizes the inside and outside zone run concepts, which require the ball carrier to find the running lanes as over-aggressive defensive linemen penetrate to the play-side.
He didn’t catch the ball much (28 receptions over two years in Miami), but Miller’s shown that he has good hands.
Often seen running swing routes as the last read in the progressions of an aggressive Jacory Harris, Miller showed that he has soft hands that enable him to catch the ball away from his body with his arms extended out, and he was also able to trap it into his body. I’d like to see him become more aggressive while attacking the ball when it’s in the air, but that’s a personal preference.
Last but not least is pass protection. If a running back can only do this part of the job, he has a place on the roster simply as a blocker. Like many other ball carriers, Miller has a lot of room to improve here. He didn’t block much during his time at Miami, particularly because he only started for a year.
But when he did block, he proved most effective when dropping his weight and cut-blocking pass rushers. However, he needs to hold his ground and become a better stand-up pass protector however.
Miller was only a one-year starter, but he has a lot of talent that he can offer to NFL teams. He is a dynamic runner who has very good burst and acceleration to go with vision and balance.
Because of those traits, he is one of the top running backs in the draft and it would not surprise me if he went in the first round, possibly to the Denver Broncos who will be moving to more inside and outside zone concepts that were heavily in use under the Manning regime in Indianapolis.