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First Down: Miami’s Miller tastes great, fantasy filling

Brad Evans
Roto Arcade

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Miller is sleeping on South Beach. (USAT)

Walk into any watering hole on a Friday night and chances are someone is emulating Alex Trebek, peppering friends with generally meaningless questions in an attempt to test their alleged Schwab-like sports knowledge. If you’re a person who typically dons a fine-tailored suit, lily white lip sweater and relishes flexing your trivia chops, this gem is for you:

In terms of total fantasy points scored, where did the Miami Dolphins backfield rank in 2012?

Don’t immediately open another window or look down, cheater. Take a moment. Ponder.

The answer: No. 7, ahead of Baltimore, Tampa and San Francisco, teams often revered for their strong rushing attacks. Shocking, isn’t it?

Though carpetbagger Reggie Bush bolted north for Detroit and Pro Bowl right tackle Jake Long opted to sign a discounted deal with the Rams, the rebranded Flippers could again sport the most underappreciated ground game in the NFL. No surprise its unrivaled starter, Lamar Miller, is hiding in the fantasy shadows, poised to strike.

The former ‘U’ standout is arguably the most undervalued running back in early drafts.

Here are three reasons that explain why:

Skill set. Taken in the fourth round of last year's NFL draft, he's drawn several comparisons to another former Hurricane, Clinton Portis. Slippery, fast around the edge, blessed with excellent vision and ultra-versatile, he flashed glimpses of All-Pro potential over limited work in his rookie campaign, averaging an impressive 4.9 yards per carry. Granted his load was significantly lighter, but his 11.7 missed tackle percentage was nearly identical to Frank Gore's (11.6) and higher than brand names Arian Foster (8.3), Matt Forte (8.8) and Ray Rice (7.7). Equally eye-popping, his 33.6 breakaway percentage (four runs of 15-plus yards) checked in at No. 15 among RBs with at least 50 carries according to Pro Football Focus.

The guy not only can hit the juke button, he's capable of serving would-be tacklers a sod sandwich. Overall, he's a fantastic match for Joe Philbin's West Coast brand who will see plenty of work regardless of in-game situation.

Pole position. As reported by NFL.com earlier this month, Miller lacks meaningful competition. Daniel Thomas is a plodder who's offered consistency in only one facet of the game, torching dumpsters. He's a tepid interior runner who struggles pushing the pile. The backup may poach occasional goal-line touches – he doubled Bush in carries inside the 10 last year (16-to-8) – but he's hardly a threat. Keeping that in mind, it's conceivable Miller totes at least 270 touches. In this timeshare age, three-down backs are rare. Volume talks.

Mike Wallace. Compared to 2011, the Miami rushing attack wielded a dull sword a season ago. With a first-year QB under center and arguably the league's least-exciting receiving corps (Brian Hartline, Davone Bess and Anthony Fasano), defenses often keyed on the run, which explains why Bush's yards per carry declined from 5.0 to 4.3. Bringing aboard one of pro football's speediest downfield weapons enhances the pass game greatly.

If Ryan Tannehill, who possesses terrific arm strength, takes a step forward and connects with Wallace on several explosive pass plays, it only stands to benefit Miller and the ground game. With defenses stretched, dump-offs underneath could also be common, elevating the sophomore rusher's worth in PPR settings. The presence of overlooked tight end Dustin Keller, just two years removed from a 65-815-5 effort with the Jets, should also help.

To be fair, Miller's situation isn't completely rosy. Last year, he couldn't hold his own against a hard-charging department-store mannequin. He's worked diligently on pass pro this offseason, but it remains unseen if his competency in the area has improved, though Philbin recently noted the rusher has done "an excellent job closing the distance." Additionally, the restructured offensive line, minus Long, is a major question mark. The unit must jell quickly this summer for Miller to bust out.

Still, with the projected easiest schedule among fantasy RBs, the ex-Hurricane should blow through the competition, finishing well-inside the RB top-20. At his current 33.7 ADP (RB21), he's a Fish worth casting a line for.

Yes, most owners would rather vacation in Syria than invest in the unknown, but in a beefed up role, Miller is sure to satisfy any appetite.

Fearless Forecast (16 games): 231 carries, 1,016 rushing yards, 41 receptions, 303 receiving yards, 8 total touchdowns

The latest in Rob Gronkowski's endless surgical saga: the cherished tight end is scheduled to undergo a back procedure June 18 in Los Angeles. No post-op timetable has been revealed, but most anticipate the recovery time to stretch over 12 weeks, making him a PUP candidate to begin the regular season.

As stated before, I would rather motorboat Phil Mickelson's man-boobs than invest a high-round pick in Gronk. After multiple operations on his forearm and given his long history of back problems going back to his college days, he's walking-a-tightrope-over-the-Grand-Canyon risky. Bill Beelzichick's affinity for vagueness when it comes to injuries is also a major deterrent. Still, 10 games of Gronk could easily outpace 95-percent of tight ends, which prompts the question: What round is good value for his services? Again, I'm not touching him (Sidebar: Dennis Pitta at 84.1 (ADP) and Kyle Rudolph at 90.2 are far more appealing), but for those willing to take the plunge, anytime from Round 6 on in a 12-team league seems appropriate. That is, if he'll even slide that far. Glance at the ADP trend from Fantasy Football Calculator below:

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As depicted above, after a steep decline in mid-May, it appears Gronk's perceived value has leveled off to around No. 46 overall (TE2), shocking when you consider the impending back surgery has been public for weeks. Coincidentally, his present ADP is nearly identical to teammate Aaron Hernandez (53.7), who is already catching passes weeks removed from going under the knife to repair his shoulder. If clarity isn't offered about Gronk's status come August, Hernandez will undoubtedly be the safer, and likely more productive, of the pair. Others will too. Use common sense, gamer.

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