By Jesse PattersonMay 14th 2019
The NFL draft has come and gone, and the dynasty offseason continues to roll on. Dynasty owners are beginning to shape their rosters for the 2019 season, looking at the pieces and players they currently have and assessing their teams’ strengths and weaknesses. As one of the most injury-prone yet statistically important positions in fantasy, many will focus on their running back position and depth. Championships were won the last few seasons on the backs of Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara, Ezekiel Elliott, and Saquon Barkley. Conversely, teams relying heavily on Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, or Leonard Fournette found themselves scrambling to replace their production as injuries or holdouts have wiped way large chunks of seasons. Youth reigns supreme in the dynasty running back landscape as owners try to snag the newest and brightest talent. According to the latest ADP data available on DLF only one running back in the top 10 is over the age of 25, which is 26-year-old Melvin Gordon. The issue this year with the youth-above-all-else strategy is the 2019 draft class was not particularly strong at the position. In fact, according toDLF's current rookie rankings only 8 running backs are featured in the top 30 prospects. Simply put, it is not a good year to need depth at the position.
Dynasty leagues tend to be youth-focused almost to the point of obsession. It isn’t hard to see why. As the name implies, the goal is to build a dynasty of your own. This means having a lengthy, continued run of success, numerous championships, and bragging rights over all your peers. The easiest recipe for continued success would be to have a young, talented team which continues to produce at a high level for numerous years. Teams are much more likely to succeed with a talented youthful core to build around and dynasty owners are required to pay a premium to acquire these young studs. The easiest and cheapest way to assemble a winning squad is through the rookie draft. If a rookie pick turns out to be the next Kamara, Barkley or Elliott, the team is well positioned to have a dominant run. The opposite side of this is the devaluation of veteran players. As the players age, they are seen as less and less desirable by the other owners and are thus harder to trade for anything of real value. Entering a season in which there are few new consensus young studs entering the league, this offseason may present a unique opportunity to capitalize on the age-bias of your league mates.
Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller is 28 years old and is entering his eighth NFL season. Standing 5’10” and weighing 220 lbs, Miller is built like a stereotypical runner and has achieved success in fantasy, finishing as a top-25 option in PPR leagues each of the past five seasons. This includes 2018’s RB23 finish where Miller rushed 210 times for 973 yards and 5 touchdowns, including a thrilling97 yard touchdown run in Week 12 against the Titans. Miller isn’t a flashy name, being largely forgotten this offseason, as hisADPhas fallen to 105th overall as the 39th running back being selected. Less proven players such as rookies Damien Harris, Miles Sanders, David Montgomery and second-year players Rashad Penny and Royce Freeman are being selected ahead of him. 29-year-old veteran Mark Ingram is being taken as the RB30, nine spots ahead of him. Despite the fact he is only a year older than David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman, people seem to be writing Miller off as too old, or past his prime, failing to recognize he is actually in a situation to succeed and be a productive fantasy contributor this season.
Under current Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, Houston has proven to be a run-heavy team. In 2018 the team finished fourth in the league in rushing attempts with 472. In the four years previous - all under O’Brien - Houston never finished lower than 11th in the NFL and only once rushed fewer than 450 times, (in 2017, due partially to the fact their mobile quarterback was injured for the season and replaced with a platoon of stone-footed backups). O’Brien has shown a steady commitment to the running game, yet in free agency and the draft only added 7th round fullback Cullen Gillaspia and undrafted free agents Karan Higdon and Damarea Crockett. The only other running back on the current roster is oft-injured and unproven former third-round pick D’Onta Foreman. All signs seem to point to the coaching staff having faith in Miller to be their lead back in 2019.
Of course, the immediate thought is how much value does mobile quarterback Deshaun Watson siphon from Miller’s upside? The answer is, obviously he will take some of the rushing attempts on designed runs and run-pass option plays, and he will have a presence in the red zone. In 2018, Miller and Watson both had the exact same amount of red zone rushes inside the ten-yard line (13) and inside the five-yard line (5), and Miller actually held the edge in success-rate, cashing in twice on goal-line rushes to Watson’s zero. Miller has also proven to be an adequate receiving option out of the backfield, with season reception totals of 25, 36 and 31 and at least one receiving touchdown in each of the last three seasons.
With age, of course, comes injury concerns, especially at the most violent fantasy position in the game. Miller, however, has shown he can stand up to the weekly punishment, having missed only 4 games in the last 6 seasons, including 2 this past season. He owns a career 4.3 yard-per-carry record and actually posted a respectable 4.6 Y.P.C. in 2018, suggesting he is not in decline. If you are a dynasty team in search of reliable running back play for the upcoming season, I would recommend sending an offer to the Lamar Miller owner in your league. If you are lucky, you can acquire him at an affordable price and be pleasantly pleased with the results in 2019.