With training camp underway, the New England Patriots currently have 76 players officially under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer — just like we did the last three years as well — we will continue to take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.
Today, the series continues with the latest addition to New England’s roster.
Name: Lamar Miller
Position: Running back
Jersey number: 35
Opening day age: 29
Size: 5-foot-11, 220 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 UFA)
What is his experience? Even with only one season as a starter under the belt, Miller decided to leave the University of Miami after his 2011 season to try his luck at the next level. His lack of experience — he appeared in just 23 games in college — may have contributed to him not coming off the board before the fourth round, but it did not stop him from becoming a solid player for the Miami Dolphins between 2012 and 2015. During that time, Miller appeared in 61 games and established himself as a solid dual-threat back.
After gaining 3,817 yards from scrimmage in Miami, Miller decided to take his talents to the Houston Texans. Serving as the team’s lead back, he became a pivotal piece of head coach Bill O’Brien’s offense before a knee injury effectively ended his tenure in 2019: Miller led the team in every major rushing category over his first three years in Houston, and gained a combined 3,855 yards on the ground and through the air in his 47 combined regular season and playoff games — all while also finding the end zone 18 different times.
Miller may not have played behind the top offensive lines in football since entering the league, but he still registered some solid volume stats and efficiency numbers as both a runner and as a pass catcher. His success as one of the catalysts behind the Texans’ 2018 offense also earned him a nomination to his first Pro Bowl as an alternate.
What did his 2019 season look like? After gaining 1,136 yards from scrimmage the previous season and serving as the Texans’ top running back option once again, Miller entered the final year of his contract as the frontrunner to again earn the RB1 job. His performance during training camp only strengthened his standing on the roster: the veteran looked sharp coming off an offseason during which he focused on his diet, lower-body strength and speed. Unfortunately, he did not get a real chance to showcase his development.
After sitting out Houston’s first two preseason contests, Miller started the team’s third exhibition game against the Dallas Cowboys. Just two plays in, however, disaster struck. He absorbed a blow to his left knee on his first and only carry of the day — a run for a one-yard loss — and remained on the ground after the play was whistled dead. Miller had to be carted off the field and an MRI later confirmed the damage to his knee: a torn ACL and damage to his MCL as well. Before his 2019 campaign really began, it was already over.
Two days after the game against Dallas, the Texans moved Miller to their season-ending injured reserve list. The usually durable back later underwent successful surgery, but was not re-signed by the club after his contract expired earlier this spring.
What is his projected role? The Patriots immediately moved Miller to the physically unable to perform list after announcing his signing earlier this week, so his eventual role and usage will depend on his physical status. That said, his track record in the league speaks for itself and for his potential within the team’s offense: the 29-year-old is well-suited to serve as an early-down runner alongside Sony Michel (another player on PUP) and Damien Harris, but also to work as a change-of-pace back in the mold of Rex Burkhead.
What is his special teams value? Miller’s special teams value is near zero, not just because he is coming off a season-ending injury: even when he was at full strength his teams rarely used him in the kicking game. As a result, he has only 41 snaps in the game’s third phase on his résumé — 39 coming in his rookie season and none since 2015. If Miller wants to make the Patriots’ roster, he will have to do so based on his offensive contributions.
Does he have positional versatility? Miller was primarily used as a ball-carrier throughout his career in the league, but he does offer considerable upside as a rotational receiver as well. During his three healthy years with the Texans, for example, he averaged 257 runs per season compared to 45.7 passing targets. While this number does not seem like a lot, it is actually more than Rex Burkhead’s 35.3 targets per season between 2017 and 2019. Miller also has experience lining up all over the offensive formation — from the backfield to the slot to the perimeter.
What is his salary cap situation? Given that his one-year deal with the Patriots only became official yesterday, there are no details known about Miller’s contract at this point in time. The belief, however, is that the contract will not break the bank after the veteran was on the open market for five months without getting picked up. If signed to a minimum salary pact based on his seven credited seasons, the veteran would receive a salary of $1.05 million this season. There also is a chance that some game-day roster bonuses and incentives — all of them not likely to be earned based on his 2019 season — are included in the deal.
What is his roster outlook? While Miller has been a productive player in the league before and gives the team more flexibility at the running back position, he will have to get up to speed quickly to make New England’s roster. Not only will he have to come off PUP in order to contribute in practice and build a rapport with the players around him, he also has to study a notoriously challenging offense. His time in Houston under ex-Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien should help, but Miller will have to show on the field that he can stand his ground versus the other backs competing for snaps in his primary roles (Sony Michel, Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead, J.J. Taylor).