What About Daniel Thomas?

Perhaps the running back situation in Miami is not as clear-cut as it seems.

Daniel Thomas isn’t terrible at football. There, I said it. I might finally be at the point where I can start the healing process and begin to forgive him for being a complete fantasy disaster by whiffing at a wide-open shot to be the starting running back in Miami back in 2011. After those first two games of 100-plus yards each, I had visions of hoisting that championship trophy above my head as I began composing my victory speech in which I would graciously thank Thomas for being a 10th-round steal.

Of course, things didn’t work out exactly as planned that year when a hamstring injury allowed Reggie Bush to swoop in and destroy my hopes and dreams.

So who cares about Daniel Thomas? The heir apparent in Miami is clearly the up-and-comer Lamar Miller. I mean, the season hasn’t even started and the reviews are already glowing:

“…top-30 fantasy option, with the upside to be more than that.” -Christopher Harris, ESPN

“…a powerful runner with light feet and good agility, he is built to carry the load and brings a much-needed physicality to the Dolphins' offense” -Matt Williamson, Scouts Inc.

“People talk about home-run speed -- this guy has finished some runs” -Tony Sparano, Dolphins Head Coach

Wait a minute; was that last quote from Tony Sparano, the former head coach of the Dolphins? Oh, that must be because these quotes are all from 2011 and are all referring to Daniel Thomas.

Of course, I’m not saying Daniel Thomas is destined to make up for lost time and finally live up to his potential as an RB2 with RB1 upside this year, but I am saying that we should be careful in prematurely coronating Lamar Miller as the no doubt, slam dunk bell cow in Miami. The only thing close to a conversation about Miller's competition that I’ve heard was a brief mention of how impressive Mike Gillislee has looked so far this offseason.

Although Daniel Thomas' career stats don’t suggest the “home-run” speed that Sparano gushed about, you should remember that my claim isn’t that he’s terrific, just that he’s not terrible. Sometimes “not terrible” is good enough to throw a monkey wrench in the works depending on usage. For example, here are Thomas' stats from last year compared to “Mystery Player X”:

Daniel Thomas913253.64.044
Mystery Player X2228003.610.045

Have you guessed who Mystery Player X is? He’s none other than the 17th-best running back of 2012, Mr. Michael Turner! Of course the injury bug and Reggie Bush led to significantly fewer rushing attempts for Daniel Thomas, however it is interesting to see how “not terrible” his numbers are. On top of that, his TD/ATT ratio of .044 is nearly identical to “goal-line hawk” Michael Turner's TD/ATT ratio of .045.

Thomas vs. Miller

OK, even though these numbers are telling, you don’t have to try too hard to find someone willing to provide a disparaging word about Michael Turner so let’s turn our attention to the real battle here: Daniel Thomas vs. Lamar Miller. No contest, right?

Well, despite the “eye test” giving a clear nod to Lamar Miller, the actual numbers from last year make things a bit muddier. There is a rushing metric called success rate, which takes into account how often a rusher improves their team’s likelihood to score when they are handed the rock. And guess what? The success rates for Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller were not only nearly identical last year, but Daniel Thomas actually came out slightly ahead with a 43.48% success rate compared to Lamar Miller's 43.14% success rate.

Mind. Blown. Of course before you lose your mind and reevaluate everything you once thought to be true, it is important to note that Lamar Miller's successful runs tended to be more valuable than Daniel Thomas', so the net expected points per play metric was actually in Lamar Miller's favor, and it’s not that close.

What does this all mean? Well the take home message should be that the demise of Daniel Thomas has been greatly exaggerated. I don’t see any scenario outside of injury that keeps him from serving as the third-down and goal-line back in the very least. This all adds up to put quite a damper on the Lamar Miller hype train and what some believe is a stratospheric upside rivaling that of Doug Martin's breakout year.

For all of the knocks on Daniel Thomas being injury prone and inconsistent, shouldn’t we remember that these were the very same reasons why he was a shoe-in to start over the “unreliable” Reggie Bush in 2011?

Again, just to be as crystal clear as the tasty but failed variety of Pepsi by the same name, I am not advocating you go out and draft Daniel Thomas thinking he’s going to be the main man in Miami (that ship has sailed). Instead, I urge you to take this opportunity to learn from history and shy away from drafting Lamar Miller at his current and costly ADP. Your fantasy team will thank you.