Fantasy Football: Can Lamar Miller Take Charge in the Houston Texans Backfield?
When the Houston Texans signed Lamar Miller to a four-year, $26 million contract in March of 2016, it boded well for his fantasy value. After all, Miller had long been seen as an underutilized member of the Miami Dolphins, and now the 2012 fourth-rounder finally had the opportunity to show the world what he could accomplish in a featured role.
However, Miller's first campaign as a Texan produced mixed results.
While he did enjoy the second 1,000-yard rushing season of his career en route to being named a Pro Bowl alternate, he struggled to find running room, averaging a modest 4.0 yards per carry. After scoring eight rushing touchdowns in each of his last two seasons in Miami, he only found the end zone five times in 2016. On top of that, his contributions as a pass-catcher were limited to 31 receptions, 188 yards, and a single score, his worst receiving output in three seasons.
More Opportunity, Worse Results
At times, it appeared that he wasn't able to handle such a heavy workload and seemed to wear down from the career-high 268 carries, missing two games due to injury in the process. It didn't help matters that Houston was committed to Brock Osweiler at quarterback. As Osweiler struggled, opposing defenses keyed in on stopping the run, and Miller's performance suffered considerably.
Miller's struggles from last season are most clearly illustrated when examining his performance in our Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. NEP uses historical down-and-distance data to determine what is expected of a player on each individual play. Positive NEP is earned when a player performs above expectation, and vice versa. You can read more about NEP in our glossary.
Miller's Rushing NEP of -19.78 was the
second-worst total among running backs with 190-plus carries. This marked a considerable downturn from
2015, when his -2.16 Rushing NEP was the eighth-best tally among this same group.
In spite of Miller's frustrating season, the Texans did nothing to address the running back position in free agency, and he appeared poised to remain the team's do-it-all back.
Foreman had been the nation's second-leading rusher in 2016 with 2,028 yards on the ground, the second-highest single-season total in Longhorns history. At 6'0", 230-plus pounds, and with a 94th-percentile speed score, he was viewed as a starting-caliber tailback in most circles.
Outlook Moving Forward
So what did that mean for Miller?
What was once a one-man show now had all the makings of a dreaded running back by committee situation -- after all, teams don't typically spend a third-round pick on runner with the intention of sitting him. There was legitimate concern that this talented rookie was going to take some of Miller's workload.
And then Foreman showed up to Texans mini-camp out of shape, which was compounded by his July arrest for marijuana possession and unlawful carrying of a weapon. Foreman's representation contends that the firearm was legally registered and the marijuana was possessed by a passenger in the vehicle, not Foreman himself. Even though he tested negative for marijuana after the incident, this sort of situation doesn't reflect well on a player who is trying to earn the trust of his coaching staff.
Considering Foreman's issues, Miller seemed like a much safer fantasy option. But then came the preseason.
The rookie impressed right out of the gate, taking 18 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown, good for a sparkling 5.8 yards per carry during the first two exhibition contests.
Perhaps more impressive was his production in the passing game, as the rookie secured 4 catches for 72 yards and a ridiculous 18.0 yards per reception. For a player who totaled a mere 7 catches for 75 yards during his last college season, this represented a significant step forward.
Unfortunately, that excitement didn't last long, as Foreman was sidelined with a groin injury shortly thereafter, and missed the final two weeks of the preseason. Currently, his status for Week 1 remains up in the air.
The saga of the Texans' backfield this offseason has seen more twists and turns than a hedge maze, but for the foreseeable future, the job appears to remain comfortably in Miller's grasp. That disappointing 2016 campaign is firmly in the rearview mirror, and for all of Foreman's ability, he hasn't had enough reps to gain ground on his teammate. In fact, as of yet, he's yet to pass Tyler Ervin and Alfred Blue on the depth chart to earn the backup role outright.
Our models project Miller for 272 carries for 1,096 rushing yards and 6.09 rushing touchdowns, as well as 38 receptions for 296 yards and 1.22 receiving touchdowns. That's an RB10 finish for a player who has been selected as the RB17 in the third round of standard 12-team leagues. If you were one of the many who decided you could stomach the risk, he could return considerable value.
Foreman has been selected as the RB54 in the 13th round, and in many shallower formats, he's sitting there on the waiver wire. With his talent level and discount price point, a Miller drafter would be hard-pressed to find a higher quality bench stash while watching how things play out early this season.