Is Lamar Miller a Sell-High Candidate in Fantasy Football?
As a child, I often found myself watching re-runs of old Looney Toons episodes and was always amazed at how Wile E. Coyote could be so committed and enthusiastic in his pursuit of the Road Runner, yet somehow be so inept at actually catching him.
Despite the extensive planning and scheming he would do, a small mistake would always derail the plan before he could catch the Road Runner.
As an adult, I now realize that some of us struggle with certain aspects of our jobs. It's not always an indictment on our effort or enthusiasm. We just aren't good at certain things.
Much like Wile E. Coyote, former Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin and his staff displayed a level of enthusiasm about getting running back Lamar Miller more touches this offseason. That had fantasy football fans teeming with excitement.
With the potential for additional touches combined with a strong finish to last season -- over the final three games, Miller was third among all running backs with 317 rushing yards -- expectations were high for Miller.
As Wile. E Coyote has demonstrated on many occasions though, sometimes enthusiasm just isn't enough.
Through the first four games of the season, Miller accumulated a mere 37 carries for 131 yards and 0 touchdowns. To say his owners were disappointed would be a bit of an understatement.
Wile E. Coyote often used exorbitant plans based on Acme TNT ultimately to foil his own pursuits of the Road Runner. In a similar vein, Philbin's choice to attempt to out game-plan his opponents by ignoring the electric Miller and focusing instead on Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins' passing game -- Miller posted only 14 total carries over Philbin's final two games -- would ultimately doom him.
Those enthusiastic comments of the offseason were now nothing more than a forgotten pipe-dream for Miller's disappointed owners.
Enter Dan Campbell.
Under freshly anointed interim-head coach Campbell, Miller has exploded back onto the fantasy scene to the tune of 354 total yards and 3 touchdowns over the last two weeks.
A once dismal situation has quickly transformed itself into one of the league's most desirable. But is this new-found production sustainable?
How Good Has Miller Been?
To put into context how great Miller has been the last two weeks, we first need to realize how staggeringly bad he was through Week 4.
Not only was Miller's statistical performance suffering -- he ranked 48th in fantasy points scored among all running backs through Week 4 -- but his on field performance was lacking as well.
Among running backs with a minimum of 37 carries, Miller was 27th in Rushing Net Expected Points NEP per play. For those unfamiliar with NEP, it is our signature metric, and it allows us to help quantify the amount of points a player contributes to his team compared to how he would be expected to perform.
For comparison, during his fantastic 2014 campaign, Miller finished 9th among all running backs in fantasy points (185.40) and 7th in Rushing NEP per play (0.06).
In the two weeks with Campbell as head coach, Miller has been sublime. With the Dolphins' offense back on track and taking a more balanced approach, Miller has had the opportunity to display the qualities fantasy football owners expected of him prior to the season.
Not only has Miller catapulted himself up the fantasy running back rankings -- through Week 7 he now sits at RB7 -- but he has also re-established himself as a supremely effective per-touch player. Miller has risen all the way to second in Rushing NEP per play at 0.16.
This drastic swing in Rushing NEP per play can partly be attributed to Miller's 85-yard touchdown run from Week 7. Though this big play may be temporarily artificially inflating Miller's Rushing NEP, it is a great sign as it represents the kind of explosiveness Miller's owners were hoping for when they invested an early-round draft pick on him this past summer.
Is It Time to Sell High?
For the owners that have stood by Miller through the tough start to the season, you may be asking yourself if the time has come to sell high on the University of Miami product.
The decision to trade away Miller is not a simple one though.
On one-hand, in a very muddied pool of running backs, Miller has a clear grasp on his team's backfield. He rarely comes off the field -- Miller has taken 68.4% of his team's snaps (6th among running backs) -- and handles goal line work.
On the other hand, Miller's value is at its peak, having just posted a career game, and his recent production has come against two of our lower rated run defenses, in terms of Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP -- with the Houston Texans ranking 23rd and Tennessee Titans ranking 27th.
Miller's schedule the rest of the season shouldn't play a large role in making the decision to trade or hold.
While he faces the tough run defenses of the New York Jets (1st in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP) and the Philadelphia Eagles (9th), he also gets matchups with the New England Patriots (26th) and the San Diego Chargers (31st).
Our projections peg Miller as the sixth best running back moving forward. In the barren wasteland that is the state of running back in fantasy football, it'll likely be difficult to get the return you'll need for Miller without depleting your running back depth.
With the balanced attack of this new regime and his talent, Miller represents the type of player that can change your team's fortunes over the second half of the season. If you elect to trade him away now, be aware that you just may see him leading your trade partner to the league title in the next few months.