Everything said by everyone in Miami this offseason has led to the idea — no, the belief — that Lamar Miller will be more than just the Dolphins’ starting running back. He’ll be this year’s Alfred Morris x roughly 1,000, busting out quickly and easily.
There’s still one minor hindrance, though: Daniel Thomas.
Even though Miller himself has said he wants to rush for over 1,500 yards this year, and even though quarterback Ryan Tannehill called him the team’s starting running back “right now” last month, a bare-knuckle fight still has to happen between Miller and Thomas. For fantasy footballing purposes, it’ll be the most important/intriguing training camp positional battle at running back, along with the mess in St. Louis.
A funny thing happens during the long, winding offseason narrative path: with the time to endlessly speculate, we eventually form conclusions after hearing said speculation quite literally on an endless one-hour loop (you’re the best NFL Network). In truth, we can only make a strongly educated guess on the outcome of most positional battles.
The Dolphins and Cowboys checked into training camp early due to their participation in the Hall of Fame game, and this morning as observations and reports filtered in from Miami, we were reminded of the frailty of offseason assumptions…
Dolphins personnel man just told me team will get a huge year from Daniel Thomas IF he stays healthy.
— Armando Salguero (@ArmandoSalguero) July 22, 2013
Salguero digitally yelled for good reason. After being a second-round pick in 2011, Thomas has limped through two seasons due to various injuries, and he’s already missed seven games while often being limited even when he’s been healthy enough to make some sort of contribution.
But what Salguero was told from this personnel man seems like little more than the standard overly optimistic early training camp speak that comes with a helping of rainbows and lollipops. The fleeting positivity around Thomas exists because of the flashes of potential he’s demonstrated when healthy, highlighted by his 202 yards over his first two career games. Overall considering his injury problems and the split with Reggie Bush, he had a rookie season that was somewhere in the vast space between decent and good, finishing with 653 all-purpose yards.
He lacks burst, though, and his upright, straight-line style is what has led to injuries, and Thomas’ 3.6 yards per carry in 2012 on 91 carries. Miller has better lateral speed and thus should be a more efficient outside runner. The fantasy fear, though, is Thomas vulturing goal-line carries as the member of this backfield and potential split who has more human girth (he’s about 15 pounds heavier, and three inches taller).
Rotoworld’s Evan Silva analyzed the limited sample size provided by Miller’s rookie season (just 51 carries). While he wrote many wonderful things (Miller is sort of pretty fast, and he has dynamic ability as a pass catcher), this particular observation isn’t promising for Miller’s aspirations of winning the top job outright, and keeping Thomas on the sideline during short-yardage situations:
Lacking in Miller’s game is physicality, a characteristic I also noticed from him at Miami. In more than one instance, Miller dove at the feet of an oncoming defender instead of powering through or going by him. He essentially gave up on those plays. While Miller flashed a stiff arm — in particular on a 22-yard inside power run to break Darrelle Revis’ arm tackle against the Jets in Week 3 — Miller’s game is finesse. He is not a pile pusher or leg-drive runner. I don’t think he loves contact.
A lack of physicality also isn’t ideal for pass protection, which is always the most difficult hurdle for young running backs.
The early conclusion here is that Miller can and should become the Dolphins’ lead running back, or at the very least be on the favorable end of a split. But there are a few significant flaws which could give head coach Joe Philbin pause, which means Miller’s current top 30-ish ADP (28.1 at Fantasy Football Calculator) is painfully rich.