Secret Superstars: Miami Dolphins
PFF has a good history of being able to point to unsung heroes, players that may go unnoticed nationally or perhaps even by the hometown fan base. Sometimes those players do get proper recognition both nationally and locally, but their contributions need to be put into better perspective.
Such is the story of Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller who captured the attention of Dolphins fans, even made fantasy football owners take notice, yet his true impact in 2014 is still flying under the radar.
The second-year running back finished at +4.6 overall, dragged down by a poor season catching the ball out of the backfield and a mediocre effort as a blocker, but it was his work in the running game that earned him a surprise entry into the PFF 101 at No. 96.
Production, Despite Subpar Blocking
One of our goals at PFF is to separate individual performance as much as possible, despite the team nature of the game. It can be difficult at times, especially in a game as complicated as football, but the system does a nice job of isolating running back and offensive line play. We often get comments about how a player can rack up 120 yards and post an average grade while another running back may only net 40 yards yet he grades in the green. The reason is the play-by-play grading takes the running back and offensive line contribution into account, giving the running back proper credit only when earned.
When watching Miller in 2014, it was clear that he was making the most of his carries despite an offensive line that finished with only two positive run blockers, center Samson Satele and left tackle Branden Albert, with Albert only playing in eight-plus games. The Dolphins as a team finished with a -37.5 cumulative run blocking grade, better than only five other teams. Even with the poor play up front, Miller managed to average 5.1 yards/carry on his way to 1101 yards and eight touchdowns.
Perhaps most impressive about Miller’s game was his ability to make something out of nothing and always move the chains. He converted 83 percent of his 3rd-and-1 opportunities, best among running backs with at least 10 attempts, and he did so even when the blocking failed him as it did in the last-linked vine. He was similarly productive on 3rd-and short (3rd-and-3 or less) as he converted 72 percent of those opportunities. Making the most out of his carries was the common theme for Miller in 2014, all leading to a +11.0 grade as a runner than ranked fifth in the league among running backs.
If Miller’s name got mentioned among the likes of Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs, most fans would dismiss the notion citing Charles as the much better player. While Charles certainly has the track record on his side, Miller and Charles were eerily similar across the board in 2014. A few highlights:
– Miller gained 1101 yards on 216 carries while Charles gained 1038 yards on 2015 carries – both averaged 5.1 yards/carry.
– Miller graded at +11.0 as a runner, -5.9 as a receiver, and -0.5 as a blocker while Charles checking in at +9.6/-3.0/-0.1.
– Miller played 654 snaps to Charles’ 665.
– Miller caught 38 passes for 289 yards (7.6 yards/reception) while Charles caught 40 for 291 yards (7.3 yards/reception).
– The Dolphins’ offensive line finished with a cumulative run blocking grade of -45.1 while the Chiefs finished at -33.0.
The similarities are uncanny, and for that reason it was nearly impossible to separate the two players when assembling the PFF Top 101. We gave Miller the nod at No. 96 with Charles checking in at No. 97, with the Dolphins’ offensive line being slightly worse in the running game our final tie breaker. Regardless of those rankings, Miller’s season being put side-by-side with Charles’ is a good barometer for the step forward he took in his third year in the league.
The big strength of Miller’s game in 2014 was his ability to pick up positive yardage. We already mentioned his efficiency in short yardage, but on the whole, Miller did his part to keep the offense on schedule. 43.1 percent of his carries went for at least 5 yards, best in the league and over 10 percent higher than the league average of 32.9 percent. Exactly half of Miller’s runs went at least 4 yards, also tops among running backs.
No matter the situation up front, Miller did a great job of moving forward, keeping the down and distance manageable, and maximizing his run blocking. When you add it all up, you get one of the most underrated running backs in 2014, a Top 101 player, and the Dolphins’ secret superstar.
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