As far as fantasy sleeper running backs go, owners would be hard-pressed to do better than Miami's Lamar Miller.
Once pegged as a breakout star, circumstances around him more than anything have prevented a breakout season from the former Miami Hurricanes standout. Miller spent his first year as a backup to Reggie Bush, then beat out Daniel Thomas for the starting role before floundering behind what was undoubtedly one of the worst lines in NFL history.
As the numbers show, though, the back mostly known for his speed (4.4 40-yard dash at the NFL combine) dropped plenty of hints that he will improve in the coming years:
The front office in Miami was smart to do so, too. Now 27, Moreno ran for 1,039 yards and 10 scores and added another 548 and three through the air, although the fact it came in an offense led by Peyton Manning hints that the numbers might just be a one-time ordeal.
Which in part is what makes Miller so enticing late in drafts. Really, his ADP right now is pretty steep, but if he falls? Major steal. Moreno is likely the starter, but a bevy of health issues means that Miller will see more than his fair share of usage, if not steal the job outright.
Moreno has already missed the first two preseason games this season with a lingering knee issue, something that should immediately throw up a red flag—he played in all 16 games a season ago, but before that he had never done so except as a rookie back in 2009.
In those three years between, Moreno missed 20 games.
The reviews this preseason in terms of the battle behind Ryan Tannehill have been wildly polarizing. Just peep at the contrasting opinions of ESPN's James Walker and Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
BTW for those who think Knowshon Moreno will start over Lamar Miller in Week 1, it's not going to happen. Miller is too far ahead. #Dolphins— James Walker (@JamesWalkerNFL) August 16, 2014
Knowshon Moreno still doesn't have his speed. But he appears to be a superior pass blocker & zone runner than Lamar Miller at 70%.— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) August 12, 2014
In other words, the door is certainly open for Miller to finally have his breakout year if he can get the lion's share of totes.
There has been a quiet hope emancipating from Miami that this is finally Miller's year, even with Moreno in town. The front office brought on former Philadelphia quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor to act as offensive coordinator in the hopes that he can get out of Miller what Chip Kelly was able to from LeSean McCoy, last year's leading rusher.
McCoy has even given Miller advice on how to handle the system Lazor is implementing this summer.
“He told me that the opportunity is great,” Miller said, per Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald. “They always keep the defense on their toes. Once you get the ball, you’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity.”
The new approach will be a far cry from what Mike Sherman ran last year, as Rotoworld's Patrick Daugherty illustrates:
But if Miller’s line play was a crisis, his coaching was a comedy. Miami’s pledge to run a balanced offense somehow translated to a unit that dialed up 594 throws (10th in the league) compared to just 349 runs (29th). You could argue that was a result of poor running and poorer blocking, but that wouldn’t be giving since-fired “OC” Mike Sherman his due. For Sherman, abandoning the run wasn’t so much a half-witted, short-sighted weekly occurrence, but a way of life.
Beasley also goes on to point out that Miller has put on "between six and eight pounds of muscle" and does not appear to have sacrificed any speed in the process.
In theory, Miller will have plenty of room to operate this season while Mike Wallace stretches the field vertically and the underrated Tannehill has more time to wind up behind a new-look offensive line led by free-agency acquisition Branden Albert and rookie Ja'Wuan James.
After last year's debacle in the offensive trenches—per Pro Football Focus (subscription required)—Miami ranked as the fourth-worst run-blocking team in 2013—pretty much anything is a better option for Miller to rush behind. Look at the numbers in visual form, as captured by Pro Football Focus' Pete Damilatis:
Some blame Lamar Miller & Daniel Thomas, but here's what they had to run behind last year: pic.twitter.com/iygRS4CpqH— Pete Damilatis (@PFF_Pete) March 27, 2014
It all equates to Miller potentially seeing more time than most may have anticipated. He is a superb flier grab who can be rotated as a flex or more based on the health and performance of Moreno. Really, if he does transform into the every-down starter, he will wind up having no issue blowing past his current ADP based on production rates in recent years.
Miller was unable to overcome circumstance last year despite his immense talent. The circumstance hurdles are lessened this year, even with the addition of Moreno. He is very much capable of a breakout season, and that in of itself justifies a flier later in drafts.