Lamar Miller could be a high first-round pick

Lamar Miller: Healthy competition for Trent Richardson

Running back’s have quickly become an endangered species at the top of round one. It’s only six years ago that three runners were taken in the first five picks of the 2005 draft (Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson and Cadillac Williams). It’s not a big surprise that times have changed – plenty of teams are finding ways to get serviceable backs later in the draft. Only two of the league’s current top-ten rushing leaders are first round picks (Adrian Peterson and Steven Jackson). The very nature of the position encourages a tough work load leading to shorter careers, almost always ended by the time the player hits 30. When you add the extreme cost that accompanies the top few picks, it’s no wonder the NFL moved away from running backs and looked closer at long term investments at quarterback and both the offensive and defensive lines.   

Could that might be about to change?   

The rookie pay scale is going to have a greater impact on the draft than maybe some people think. Let’s look at the difference in salary for the 1st, 5th and 10th picks in 2010 and 2011 – before and after the pay scale arrived.   

#1 overall

Sam Bradford (2010)
6-year contract worth $78m with $50m in guarantees and a maximum value of $86m

Cam Newton (2011)
4-year contract worth a fully guaranteed $22m   

#5 overall

Eric Berry (2010)
6-year contract worth $60m with $34m in guarantees

Patrick Peterson (2011)
4-year contract worth a fully guaranteed $18.5m   

#10 overall

Tyson Alualu (2010)
5-year contract worth $28m with $17.5m in guaranteed

Blaine Gabbert (2011)
4-year contract worth a fully guaranteed $12m   

Players drafted within the top ten are now making as much money as players previously taken in the 15-20 range. Maurkice Pouncey’s rookie contract is worth only $1.65m less in guarantees than Blaine Gabbert’s, despite an eight-pick difference. If you were considering a running back with a top ten pick, in 2010 you would almost certainly be investing around 20-30m in guarantees at a position carrying a severe injury risk. Post-2010, that’s completely changed to a much more affordable number. We may be about to see a u-turn with teams now returning to the position as an early first round option, tapping into the short learning curve at the position for rookies.   

Of course, there will always be teams who take the stance that drafting a running back in round one is a luxury. I suspect the Seahawks could fall into that category, given they passed on Mark Ingram last year (offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell was a big fan) and considering the previous appointment of Alex Gibbs and his philosophy that believes runners can be found without the high-end investment. That’s not to say they too won’t change their mind in this new climate, but Seattle’s priorities will probably continue to lie elsewhere.   

Trent Richardson should go early next April, offering a cornerstone playmaker to a struggling offense. But what about Lamar Miller? Could he too leave the board early?   

There’s a lot to like about the redshirt-sophomore from Miami. For the year he’s on 1108 yards with eleven touchdowns. Miller has ideal size for the NFL (5-11, 211lbs) and the kind of breakaway speed that will intrigue teams early in the first round. Perhaps his best attribute is patience – it’s reminiscent of Shaun Alexander’s days in Alabama. While Miller hasn’t got that same natural, smooth running style and elusiveness that made Alexander a star, the way he let’s the play develop before exploding into a cut is at an elite level. He seeks out running lanes and explodes through the gap, often making angles with a neat cutback or rounding the edge. He’s the kind of running back that makes things happen and won’t rely totally on good line play.   

His ability to change direction quickly without losing speed is also unique. He glides in and out of cuts to avoid tackles and in the open field he can extend runs for big gains that would otherwise just be first downs. The fluidity of his open-field running style is comparable to Jeremy Maclin’s, albeit it in the body of a running back. On short yardage runs he’s got enough size and power to be effective and he’ll keep carries in the red-zone. If there is one concern about his running style, it’s quite upright and he exposes a lot of his body to the tackle. So far he’s avoided injuries, but it’s something to consider – not that it’s hindered other players who run this way.   

Miller is a non-factor in the passing game, which is a slight concern. He only has 24 career receptions and a single touchdown – you’d like to see more considering how often running backs are used split wide and on screens these days. Neither is he a thriving blocker, but on the tape evidence I’ve seen so far he’s at least willing and this is an area that will improve with pro-coaching. These are minor concerns given how rounded he is as a runner and while he may not have the same brutish running style and size as Richardson, he looks faster on tape and has shown the same ability to dodge or break tackles consistently.   

There’s no doubt he’s ready to have an impact on the NFL and he could provide a team with a young offensive core a nice weapon at running back. He may not join Trent Richardson among the first ten picks next April, but he has every opportunity to go in the top-15. That’s the range I expect to project Miller in my first mock draft for 2012, to be published soon.  




  1. Jarhead

    One thing I see, while Miller is obviously a physical specimen, is that he almost always goes down with first contact. If we’re talking about him in regards to the Seahawks, I don’t think he fits. We run a power offense and need a RB who can always shed first contact. I think we can find a more suitable RB later on in our draft (ie Chris Polk, David Wilson) also any player from Miami that Seattle has ever drafted almost never works out, seriously look it up. But with a high first round selection, I would almost never be happy with drafting the second best player available in a position that isn’t QB or OT. But Miller certainly looks like he could add a great dynamic to a team like TB or Jacksonville who already have a bruiser but need more weapons

    • Rob

      Certainly I was thinking Tampa Bay would be a good home. They currently own the #14 pick. I can’t see the Seahawks spending a R1 on a running back next April and while I wouldn’t rule out drafting for the position at all in round one, you can find good RB’s later. We all know which position the Seahawks need to be spending their first pick on.

  2. Colin

    A RB in R1 makes no sense because of all the R1 RB taken in recent years, very few have a huge impact on their team. Lynch isn’t in Buffalo anymore. Cedric Benson isn’t in Chicago anymore. Ronnie Brown left Miami. None have major value. Good players, not worth the investments though. CJ Spiller is doing nothing in Buffalo

    When you see guys like Arian Foster, Demarco Murray and James Starks, all diamonds in the rough, it makes the 1st round grade on a RB harder to justify.

    • Rob

      You could counter that though by looking at Adrian Peterson who has been elite pretty much since his rookie contract. Several other R1 picks have also worked out – it just happens that RBs are easier to judge on their production (compared to, for example, offensive lineman) so they’re easier to judge as busts or success stories. For me, Trent Richardson and Lamar Miller have the potential to be success stories.

      • Colin

        I would counter the AP example by asking how much success the Vikes have had since drafting him- a fair amount. Singlehandedly he’s kept them competitive but even he isn’t making them contenders every year despite his production.

        Steven Jackson is another example, and again, how much success have the Rams had in his tenure? Not much.

        My argument isn’t to discredit these backs and shovel them all the blame of their teams’ inabilities. I just think it’s a fair point to note they don’t turn teams into contenders every year- something we all want the Seahawks to be.

        • Rob

          But I’m not arguing Seattle should draft one of these backs in round one, at no point in the piece have I discussed Miller as a projection for the Seahawks. This is a review on a player who will probably go early that isn’t really being talked up all that much. I’ve argued more than anyone that Seattle needs a quarterback, there’s no question in my mind what direction they should be going next April.

          • kevin mullen

            I quit if the ‘Hawks draft a RB in round 1. I’m not even playin…

            • Jim J

              Don’t quit Kevin. My arguement for drafting a RB in the first round (if the top QBs are gone) would be this. If it was a wide receiver we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. Everyone wants a great wide receiver. Well what’s the difference between a WR and a good running back that can catch the ball? One is more of a deep threat. The other will catch the outlet pass, run the ball, and will be able to juke defenders and run more powerfully.

              In short, this whole idea that the running back has less value is patently untrue. What would we have given to have that Dallas RB that tore us up a couple weeks ago?

              So yes draft the QB if we can. But don’t tell me that drafting a great running back in the first round is a bad move. It makes just as much sense as drafting a wide receiver.

  3. pqlqi

    Haven’t watched as much as you for sure… but when looking at other draft picks at the RB position for the last several years, Miller doesn’t strike me as elite in the college game. His open field cuts are smooth and he maintains his speed, but they are not very dynamic. i think matt waldman refers to “changing the angle of pursuit” where the cut is so severe that the entire pack of pursuing defensive players has to make a cut to account for the severity of the back’s change of direction. the defensive players in the Miller tape here just sortof have to dive to tackle Miller. in the Maryland and VTech film, it seems to be the exception rather than the rule that he makes man completely whiff in the open field.

    obviously it is a retrospectoscopic view, and he is probably one of the bigger surprises in the NFL this year, but i think DeMarco Murray’s college film shows elite level change of direction.

    on another note, people always talk about upright style and injury risk… but does it really translate? maybe you are more likely to get knocked backwards, but that’s is not really how backs are put out of games or season. perhaps the improved vision and better center of balance decreases the risk of knee injuries as it is easier to unplant a foot if you don’t have a more significant forward lean.

  4. diehard82

    Rob, regarding Marshawn Lynch, I remember Carroll commenting after he sat out the Browns game that he’s had this back “thing” since he arrived in Seattle. Makes me wonder whether they might have enough concerns about his back to move on and pass on re-signing him. And that makes me wonder whether they might actually covet a guy like Trent Richardson if he’s still available. If Bevell loved Ingram, he should be star-struck with Richardson.

  5. LouieLouie

    Hey Rob:
    I’m with you about getting a quarterback. Imagine having a first round draft pick QB competing with Josh Portis. That would be an excellent environment in which to find the future QB.

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