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Making the Leap, No. 20: Miami Dolphins' Lamar Miller

Around The League will profile the top 40 players we see Making the Leap in 2013. No. 20 on the list: Miami Dolphins RB Lamar Miller.

Why Miller is on the list

Miller led all running backs at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine with a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, but he fell to the fourth round of the draft because of a pre-draft shoulder surgery among other -- more specious -- concerns. Healthy by training camp, Miller quickly impressed as the top big-play threat in the Dolphins' backfield. He finished an inconsistent rookie year with 250 yards at 4.9 yards per rush on 51 carries.

Although billed as a home-run threat, Miller also showed good balance and ran with more authority on the interior than expected. He has an impressive initial burst through the hole, excellent change-of-direction and the ability to inflict damage on the perimeter once he accelerates.

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin thought enough of Miller's pass-catching potential to suggest that he eventually could line up at wide receiver. Although Miller hauled in just six receptions as a rookie, he showed reliable hands and the ability to make the first defender miss and break tackles after the catch.

Relegated to third-string running back while he learned the playbook, checkdowns and pass protections for the majority of the season, Miller seemed to have earned the coaching staff's trust by December. By January, the front office was willing to let Reggie Bush walk because the team viewed Miller as a bigger, faster, better version.

Obstacles

NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock cautioned that Miller "doesn't show up" on third down, in short-yardage or at the goal line on his college tape. The same held true for Miller's NFL rookie season because of pass-protection concerns, a lack of physicality and questionable hole selection.

I charted Miller with 20 of 51 attempts (nearly 40 percent) at 2 yards or less last season. Much like an early career C.J. Spiller or a late-model Chris Johnson, there's a boom-or-bust aspect to Miller's game. When he trusted his blocking and stayed inside, he enjoyed success. Too often, though, he hesitated to read the hole and broke outside in search of the big play.

While Miller is viewed as the clear favorite, he still must separate from 2011 second-round draft pick Daniel Thomas. To do so, Miller will have to prove that he's an all-around back, capable of picking up key first downs inside the trenches and protecting Tannehill on passing downs.

2013 expectations

When you keep your ear to the NFL ground long enough, you develop an instinct for unproven players on the verge of success. It starts with a quiet confidence emanating from all corners of the organization. The front office creates an opportunity by shipping out the veteran place-holder, all the while singing the upstart's praises. The coaches note an increasing mental acuity that will enable the developing player to progress once placed in a featured role. Teammates and beatwriters begin ramping up expectations.

Miller doesn't have Spiller's electrifying, nonpareil lateral agility, but the two backs share many of the same strengths and weaknesses. The most obvious strength is the insane speed to take an opening to the house. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the biggest weakness is a tendency to look for the big play when the situation dictates otherwise.

Miller is aiming for 1,500 rushing yards and 5 yards per carry this season. It's not an unreasonable goal. A more realistic one is outpacing Bush's two-year Miami average of 1,330 yards from scrimmage.

Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.

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