In Around The NFL's "Making the Leap" series, we spotlight emerging players to keep an eye on in 2016. Whether rising from no-namer to quality starter or vaulting from standout to superstar, each of these individuals is poised to break through in the coming campaign.
Fast-forward to the present day. Miller is rich and locked in as Houston's replacement for Arian Foster. Free from the shackles of former Dolphins coordinator Bill Lazor's maddening offense and playing for a head coach who loves to pound the rock, Miller can raise his game to All-Pro heights in Houston.
Why Miller is on the list
This is actually the second time Miller has cracked our Making The Leap list. Back in 2013, Chris Wesseling wrote of Miller's potential to provide an upgrade over Reggie Bush in Miami. Miller did just that, but he never seemed to fully gain the trust or respect of his coaching staff. He averaged just 15 touches per game his final season with the Dolphins, yet still managed nearly 1,300 total yards and 10 touchdowns.
Miller will find himself with a workload more commensurate with his production in a Texans offense that should continue to lean on the rushing game, even with the addition of quarterback Brock Osweiler. The Texans ranked first and fifth in the league in rushing attempts in O'Brien's first two seasons in Houston. Barring injury, Miller will get the lion's share of carries in a backfield not heavy on depth. (Back off, Alfred Blue superfans.)
So what else is working in Miller's favor, besides an increased workload and better coaching? Well, Miller also has become a better, more complete player over his first four pro seasons. The 25-year-old still has quick feet, blazing speed and home-run ability, but he showed substantial improvement as a blocker and as a receiver out of the backfield. Analytics site ProFootballFocus.com ranked Miller as the third-best pass-blocking running back in the game last season, and he set career highs in receptions (47), receiving yards (397), yards per catch (8.4) and receiving touchdowns (two) in 2015.
The Texans signed a player who appears to have just entered his prime. That's how you win in free agency.
Obstacles he'll face
Though we don't expect it, it's certainly possible the Texans alter their offense after signing Osweiler to a four-year, $72 million deal. In terms of receivers, Osweiler has a superstar in DeAndre Hopkins and a compelling rookie in first-round pick Will Fuller, so the Texans might look to add more balance to their attack. Then again, we have no real evidence that Osweiler is capable of carrying an offense after his mixed-bag cameo as the Broncos' starter last season.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle facing Miller is the wear and tear of an NFL season. Adrian Peterson, last year's leading rusher, finished 2015 with 357 touches -- 116 more than Miller in his final season in Miami. The Dolphins kept Miller's legs fresh with limited usage, but of course, that creates the question of whether Miller can handle a bigger role. Miami obviously didn't think so, and perhaps the Dolphins know something the Texans don't.
Expectations for 2016
There's a reason Miller will go in the first round in fantasy leagues this summer: The arrow is pointing up for him to have the best season of his career. Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle wrote that Miller is "slated for a versatile role as an inside and outside running presence who figures to be a healthy part of the passing game." That all checks out for us, and Miller has the natural ability to turn that opportunity into stud production.
Miller had to escape from Miami to find out where his ceiling is. Don't be surprised if that ceiling is high enough to make Miller a premier back by season's end.