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Miami Dolphins Backfield: Opportunity For Investment

When Reggie Bush left the sunny shores of Miami for the frozen tundra’s of Detroit, he left a gaping hole at running back. Miami finished 27th in total offense in 2012, but over the off season upgraded their wide receivers by adding Brandon Gibson and burner Mike Wallace, brought in Dustin Keller to replace Anthony Fasano, and perhaps most critically, signed Tyson Clabo and let Jake Long go. Despite an anemic overall offense, the Dolphins were 17th overall in rushing and with overall improvements to the whole offensive unit and progression in Ryan Tannehill’s game, the Dolphins could actually have a top-15 offense in 2013.

While it is no guarantee that Tannehill will be better in 2013, getting upgraded weapons will help him. Tannehill had the second best accuracy percentage under duress, per Pro Football Focus and the 7th best accuracy % on passes more than 20 yards down the field. With Tannehill’s improvement, there will be more red zone opportunities and more productive drives in general. That would make the starting running back for the Miami Dolphins an incredibly undervalued fantasy commodity. The problem is, that situation is murky.

Lamar Miller is the presumed starter. According to MFL, Miller has an ADP of RB20. If Miller did end up the Week 1 starter, that would end up being a huge value, as a 16 week bellcow is more and more of a rarity in today’s NFL. Using Coleman Kelly’s metric model for evaluating running backs out of college, Miller graded out at 89.45 with a 93.7 physical score and an 82.37 production score. Neither one of those numbers are as mind blowing as many fantasy football analysts would like you to believe. For comparisons sake, journeyman running back Jordan Todman scored a 91.10 on this metric scouting scale. Miller received at 33.7 elusiveness rating from PFF, which would put him in the ranks of Johnathan Dwyer, Robert Turbin and only slightly better than the horrible Daniel Thomas. While Miller is certainly talented, he isn’t a generational talent that a coaching staff will make sure is on the field if he can’t pass block or learn the offense.

ESPN’s AFC East blogger James Walker reported yesterday that he “has serious concerns about Miller’s pass-blocking abilities.” Walker’s concerns should be concerning for fantasy owners who have been taking Miller at his current ADP. The coaching staff has a great deal invested in Ryan Tannehill’s health and success and having a running back out there that can’t pass block just won’t happen. It isn’t just Miller’s pass blocking ability that should terrify fantasy owners. His inability to learn the playbook in 2012 kept him off the field and gave carries to Daniel Thomas as the RB2 in Miami. Miller played less than 25% of snaps in 7 of the 10 games he was active for, and less than 15% of snaps in 4 of those games. The situation got so bad that Miller actually played special teams, which is not a positive sign for a highly regarded running back. Generally, franchises don’t run out elite talent that they are invested in on special teams.

Miller is clearly possesses usage risk, which means that until the picture becomes more clear, the smartest investment is to buy the other, cheaper options on the roster. Daniel Thomas functioned as the back up running back last year, but the fact is that he just isn’t very good. Besides averaging a truly terrible 3.5 yards per carry on 256 career touches, Thomas has shown a lack of durability and suffered multiple concussions. Not only has Thomas been bad on the field, but there have been rumors of discipline problems. Given all of this information, it’s fairly interesting that the Dolphins drafted a pre-draft favorite of mine, Mike Gillislee from the University of Florida, in the fifth round. While Gillislee is currently third on the Dolphin’s running back depth chart, that doesn’t mean he is doomed to fantasy football mediocrity. Given a lack of any discernible skills from Thomas and any real indication that Lamar Miller is a capable NFL starter, Gillislee is in prime position to be a dark horse beneficiary, should Miller falter as a starter.

Here is a table comparing Gillisee and Miller while in college.

Name Total Yards Total Touchdowns Y/PC Final Season MsoY Final Season MsoT 40 Time Speed Score Agility Score Metric Physical Score
Lamar Miller 2099 16 5.7 72.00% 50.00% 4.34 119.5 11.02 93.70
Mike Gillisee 2254 22 5.3 46.00% 45.00% 4.42 108.9 11.52 94.85

What this table indicates is that Miller is not as superior to Gillisee as one would believe. Coleman’s physical metrics score shows Gillislee as a better physical specimen and the two athletes are close everywhere, except for speed score. Miller had a larger market share, particularly in yards, but that could very well be the result of the fact that Miller played for some very bad Miami teams without other weapons that demanded to be used. Miller does have a year of experience, but no one is going to be on the field if they can’t make Ryan Tannehill’s life easier. The Gillislee-Miller drafting comparison is an arbitage player. They are similar enough athletes that if Gillislee ends up starting or even splitting carries, he will provide excess value. Fantasy football is so dependent on situation, and this situation creates a unique buying opportunity.

Gillislee barely has an ADP, as he is the 66th running back off the board at an average of pick 194. In dynasty leagues, Gillislee is a target to examine, especially if he is the wire or available for a discount due to someone believing Thomas is the handcuff or overvaluing Miller’s position solidarity. In redraft leagues, when you are filling out the back of your bench with running back depth, Gillislee should join Zac Stacy and Latavius Murray as a guy that you absolutely need to stash, due to the probability of him starting very early. Every year in redraft leagues a player like Alfred Morris emerges out of nowhere to have 250 carries and take many fantasy football teams to the promises land and unlike many options, it is theoretically possible that Gillislee ends up getting carries without any injury occuring in front of him.

About Davis Mattek

Davis Mattek is a 20 year old English major at Kansas State University who founded his own website, Sports Wunderkind, late in 2012. In addition to running his own site, Davis is a full-time contributor at Fantasysports.org and a part time contributor at Dynasty League Football, The Fantasy Fix and Rotoviz.

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