Lamar Miller’s sleeper darling status may have worn off back in, oh, April, but a featured (or nearly featured) back can still be yours for a dollar store price in some drafts. Meanwhile, Mike Wallace is really good at catching deep balls, and Ryan Tannehill is good at throwing them.
Miami: it’s not your older brother’s fantasy football place of broken dreams anymore.
Notable Additions: Mike Wallace, Dustin Keller, Brandon Gibson
Notable Draft Picks: Mike Gillislee, Don Sims
The Marquee Men (the elitest of the elite)
Mike Wallace (ADP: 61.2): At first it seems difficult to project what could happen with Wallace when he goes from a wide receiver-quarterback relationship in Pittsburgh that was very familiar and comfy cozy, to one in Miami with a quarterback entering a sophomore year after a rookie season in which he played the part of the more traditional rookie quarterback. We can blame a lack of a supporting cast for Ryan Tannehill’s underwhelming rookie year, and we wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. But any time a quarterback records five games with a YPA under 6.0 in a season, that’s a problem.
Or maybe — and I’m about to reach here — Tannehill was in a situation which set him up to be a much more normal rookie quarterback. And that’s OK. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and others in recent years have raised expectations so high that we’ve forgotten a simple reality: being successful at the most important and intricate offensive position immediately is sort of difficult. Once we remember that and then look a little deeper at Tannehill’s NFL introduction, we see that he may actually be a much better fit for Wallace.
Ben Roethlisberger is known for many things, most notably his scrambling ability and subsequent pocket sense. But lately an accurate deep arm isn’t one of them, which isn’t ideal for a burner like Wallace who’s utilized properly only when he’s consistently fed footballs that sail great distances. With Big Ben in 2011, a quarter of Wallace’s receptions went for 20 yards or more (18 in total), and now under Tannehill he could exceed that plateau.
The sample size with Tannehill is obviously small, but in his single season he’s demonstrated much more accuracy than Roethlisberger on deep passes. According to Pro Football Focus, on throws that were targeted 20 yards or more down the field, Tannehill ranked seventh last year with a 43.1 completion percentage. Meanwhile, Roethlisberger was 29th at 31.9 percent, a rate that’s fallen significantly since 2009, when the Steelers pivot ranked second at 53.6 percent.
Lamar Miller (ADP: 29.1): Even in Amish leagues where drafts are done by hand, Lamar Miller is still a breakout candidate. Grandmothers, dogs, and goldfish are drafting him as such, and if you ask Miller himself, he’ll tell you he’s about to rush for 1,500 yards. Easy.
Let’s abandon any notion that Miller is still in a battle with Daniel Thomas for carries, or any slice of the delicious workload pie. That was a fear last month, but our cold sweats have now ended after we all remembered that even when he’s healthy, Thomas is a plodding mess. He runs far too upright, which leads to frequent injuries, and he averaged only 3.6 yards per carry last year.
Thomas will get his carries and touches, and it’s quite possible that Miller won’t be an outright featured back as he bleeds, say, five or six carries a game away. Whatever, such is life in today’s NFL backfield, and the worst-case scenario still isn’t all that horrific. Thomas could get some goal-line touches, but Miller will still have ample opportunity to use his superior open-field speed to accumulate chunk yardage. What’s most telling about the Thomas-Miller comparison is how much more Miller did with the little work he received last year. Miller touched a football in a meaningful role only 57 times, and he averaged 5.2 yards per touch, finishing with 295 yards overall. Thomas, meanwhile, chipped away at 4.5 yards per touch.
The ADP above for Miller is taken from Fantasy Football Calculator, and it’s a little steep. He can be purchased 11 picks later at My Fantasy League (and incredibly, 64th overall in ESPN leagues), a nice early third-round steal, and Miller makes it much easier to sleep at night than other running backs in that general area of the draft (hi, DeMarco Murray and Darren McFadden).
The Middle Men (middle-to-late round options)
Brian Hartline (ADP: 139.8): Often we refer to wide receivers as being the most volatile creatures of the fantasy kingdom. But perhaps no one lived that life more than Brian Hartline in 2012.
He had three +100 yard games, including a 253-yard game in Week 3 against the Cardinals (at the time he only had one other 100-yard game in his career, over 47 games). In total, his yardage during those three bust out games was 43.5 percent of his production throughout the entire year, a season in which he topped the 1,000-yard mark for the first time.
Here are his averages in those three games: 9.7 receptions, 14.3 targets, 157 yards.
And here are his averages in the other 12 games (he missed Week 6): 4 receptions, 7.3 targets, 51 yards.
After the signing of Wallace to draw coverage away and (ideally) an offseason of growth from Tannehill, here’s to hoping something that resembles consistency happens for Hartline this year. Even if it doesn’t, at his current price he’s still a much better than fine option as a flex stash, or in deep leagues a low-end WR3.
Ryan Tannehill (ADP: 164.1): I already touched on Tannehill and his potential for growth earlier, along with the likelihood for a solid pairing of skillsets with Wallace. Adding to that, please observe what you’re paying for Tannehill. Or rather, what you’re not paying.
Yes, I understand that even with the addition of Wallace, owning Tannehill in any capacity right now feels about as good as, I dunno, being judo kicked by a cow. But keep reminding yourself of that connection with one of the league’s best deep threats, and then keep looking at Tannehill’s price.
The best quarterback for those who take a late-round quarterback strategy to its extreme is Jay Cutler, the sometimes maddening Bears arm who has a new, innovative head coach, and he’s coming off the board on average at 138th overall. But with Wallace aboard along with Dustin Keller and Brandon Gibson (who could suck, FYI) Tannehill has the potential to drastically outperform his current draft location, while costing you the equivalent of several used jock straps.
For me, the best late-round quarterback strategy would be to pursue both Cutler and Tannehill.
The Menial Peons (sleepers, flex plays, and matchup plays)
Dustin Keller (ADP: 141.3): Keller is coming off an injury-plagued season, so it’s easy for a dark cloud of recency bias to impair our judgement. He’s only a year removed from 815 receiving yards at a pace of 50.9 per game, despite having to catch passes in New York from the league leader in bare-assed booty shaking.
But what’s especially promising for Keller and the likelihood that he’ll quickly become Tannehill’s bestest friend on Sunday is his ability to catch nearly all the footballs. Last year, Keller had a catch rate of 77.8 percent, according to PFF, securing 28 of the 36 balls thrown in his direction.
Brandon Gibson (ADP: undrafted): After four years in St. Louis where he excelled at times split out wide as a deep option, the Brandon Gibson experiment has been moved to the slot, because with Hartline and Wallace squatting outside, there’s nowhere else for him to play. That’s a problem, because he could suck there.
Gibson lacks after the catch ability, a required asset for any average slot receiver. He’ll get targets and snaps because of the ill-advised financial commitment made to him by Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland (three years, $9.75 million). But he’s been outplayed at training camp, and between the balls thrown to Wallace, Hartline, Keller, and even Miller out of the backfield, there will be little left for Gibson.
The Mop-Up Men (deeeep sleepers and handcuffs)
Daniel Thomas (ADP: undrafted): Thomas is a handcuff for Miller. Or he’s insurance against Miller bizarrely face planting throughout the rest of the preseason and losing his job. But he’s no more than that, and for what it’s worth, Thomas had just five yards on four carries Sunday during the Hall of Fame game.