2016 New Contract Tracker: Running Backs

This new weekly feature will analyse the progress of the running backs that signed new contracts in the 2016 offseason. Each week I will select two players of interest, discuss their production, and analyse it with respect to the contract that they signed.

Lamar Miller – Texans

While much of the attention on the Texans through three weeks has been for Brock Osweiler’s subpar play, there is another big-money acquisition operating out of the blue and red backfield. Lamar Miller has been the undisputed bell-cow for Bill O’Brien’s offense, but has yet to provide the sort of efficient running that earned him his significant contract. Miller has the 6th largest APY of all running backs at $6.5 million, and the largest guaranteed percentage out of the top 14 APY running backs (excluding Ezekiel Elliott’s 100% guaranteed rookie deal) at 53.8%.

Looking at Miller’s first three weeks statistically, it’s safe to say that there are positives and negatives. Miller is 4th in the league in rushing yards (269), and has taken on a huge workload with 74 attempts compared to backup Alfred Blue’s 8. However, those stats together show that his yards have come at a relatively inefficient rate. Miller averaged 4.6 yards per attempt in his career before coming to Houston, and his current YPA of 3.6 is below expectations. Miller has also failed to reach the end zone, however he has not received the sorts of goal line opportunities that other bell-cow backs have. Miller has had just one attempt inside the 10, while David Johnson, Ryan Mathews, Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley and Carlos Hyde have each had over 6 inside-10 attempts.

Miller’s low YPA could be attributed to several external factors. The Texans’ offensive line has been inconsistent in run blocking, and some key injuries such as franchise tackle Duane Brown and 2016 2nd-round pick Nick Martin haven’t helped. Also, the Chiefs and Patriots defensive fronts performed superbly against the Texans’ run game, with playmakers like Dontari Poe for the Chiefs and Jamie Collins for the Patriots having big impacts. Against the Patriots, Miller’s efforts were also made more difficult by the Texans’ lack of aerial threat. Therefore, while he will need to start taking each carry further to justify his new contract, Miller’s low efficiency has not simply been a product of any individual struggles.

In comparing Miller to the rest of the highly-paid running backs, the Texans should at least be satisfied with his ability to stay healthy. Many running backs with top-tier money have already faced various injury problems, such as Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, Jonathan Stewart, Chris Ivory and Jamaal Charles. With a young receiver corps and an inexperienced quarterback, the Texans would love to at least threaten defenses with a healthy star running back, and Lamar Miller seems to be just that.

Grade after three weeks: B-

LeGarrette Blount – Patriots

With Tom Brady suspended for four games, and several young quarterbacks finding their feet in the league, Bill Belichick and the Patriots have leant heavily on the run game through Week 3. In most seasons under Belichick, the Patriots air it out through Brady while consolidating games with a complementary run game. Their lack of investment in the running back position under Belichick has been evidence of that mindset. Even Pro Bowl running backs like Kevin Faulk Corey Dillon have come through New England without major, top-tier deals. Dion Lewis, out for the season, and Blount have been no exception, each signing deals for around $1 million APY in the past year.

All in all, Blount has been outstanding value for the Patriots so far this season. He is leading the league in rushing attempts (75), yards (298) and is tied for the lead in touchdowns (4). His yards per attempt is respectable at 4.0, and most importantly, the Patriots are 3-0 while relying on Blount and the running game much more than previous seasons. Given that some teams are using over three times Blount’s cap space for backups (see: Powell, Jets and Starks, Packers), the return for the Patriots is exceptional. Blount was signed to be a cheap and experienced power runner behind Dion Lewis, but with Lewis out he has proven to be a reliable workhorse leading a young offense.

Blount hasn’t done it all on his own, though. The offensive line play has also drawn praise, particularly from Belichick himself. The return of long-time offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has been a huge boost for the young line, creating holes and creases for Blount. Martellus Bennett and the wide receivers have also contributed effectively in the run game. The Football Outsiders metric Defense-adjusted Yards over Replacement (DYAR) is an excellent rating for how crucial the individual player is within the offensive system. Blount is ranked a mere 31st in DYAR, and this suggests that the offense has provided Blount with a good platform to succeed. Also, Blount is not used in 3rd down and passing situations at all, having only carried the ball 5 times on 3rd down. James White has seen the entirety of this work. Overall, Blount has certainly benefitted from some high quality play around him, but his production when called upon is all that the Patriots can ask for and more.
Grade after three weeks: A

Here is the full list of running backs that signed new contracts this past year.

NameTeamAPYAttemptsYardsTouchdownsYd/ADYAR rankRec.R.YdsR.TDSEASON GRADE
Doug MartinBuccaneers$7,150,000258503.430th5340C (inj.)
Lamar MillerTexans$6,500,0007426903.635th10520B-
Chris IvoryJaguars$6,400,000121401.2n/a190C- (inj.)
Giovani BernardBengals$5,166,667104204.2n/a111051C
Darren SprolesEagles$4,500,000195102.7n/a101601B
C.J. AndersonBroncos$4,500,0005420323.824th8701B
Matt ForteJets$4,000,0006726133.94th9670B+
Theo RiddickLions$3,850,000289113.328th161301B-
Bilal PowellJets$3,750,00097308.1n/a9490C+
James StarksPackers$3,000,00012900.8n/a3310D
Alfred MorrisCowboys$1,750,000176123.6n/a120C+
Mike TolbertPanthers$1,650,000133602.8n/a3150B-
Arian FosterDolphins$1,500,000164702.9n/a3620C
Reggie BushBills$1,500,0003-40-1.3n/a000D
Chris JohnsonCardinals$1,500,000196113.2n/a000B-
Lance DunbarCowboys$1,250,0004711.8n/a3420C
LeGarrette BlountPatriots$1,000,000752984431st000A

Will Eddowes is a 20 year old college student from New Zealand. Will is in his second year of study at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, pursuing conjoint degrees in law and economics. Despite living so far away from football, Will has developed a strong passion for the game, particularly the front office aspects of salary cap analysis and team building/scouting.