Fantasy Football: How Lamar Miller Affects Sony Michel, New England Patriots Backfield

The New England Patriots made yet another move, signing running back Lamar Miller to a one-year deal. The former Houston Texans running back is coming off a torn ACL but is a perfectly competent running back when healthy. Presumed starter Sony Michel, meanwhile, is currently on the PUP. Is the Miller signing a kiss of death to Michel, and will guys like Rex Burkhead, James White, and Damien Harris have any opportunity in this backfield?

How Lamar Miller Affects Sony Michel, New England Patriots Backfield in Fantasy Football

Lamar Miller/Sony Michel

First off, don’t draft Lamar Miller. He’s not going to carry any fantasy value, unless you’re in a 14-team league with 50 flex spots. At his best, Miller is a solid early-down running back that can take what’s blocked for him, but not much more. Last year at this time, Miller was a seventh- or eighth-round pick, despite the fact he was healthy, had unquestioned control of his backfield, and was in a better offense. If you didn’t want him in 2019, then you shouldn’t want him in 2020.

Miller is one of those guys that exists only to ruin the fantasy value of others. Brandon Bolden opted out, but the Patriots probably didn’t sign Miller to fill his role. Bolden received just 24 touches last year and spent most of his time on special teams. Miller isn’t a special teamsf guy, so he’s probably here to serve as Sony insurance.

Michel underwent foot surgery back in May to take care of some nagging pain. Originally, everyone expected the former first rounder to be ready for the start of the season. However, as the offseason progressed, that timeline started to become less and less clear. Michel is still on the PUP and the Miller signing implies that he won’t be back for Week 1.

However, it’s foolish to assume that a 29-year old running back coming off a torn ACL with no experience in the system will just take all of the early-down work. Assuming Michel isn’t ready for the start of the season, Rex Burkhead and Damien Harris will battle for the starting spot. The question now becomes – which one do you target in fantasy?

Rex Burkhead or Damien Harris?

Rex Burkhead is a proven NFL runner with an ability to make plays as both a runner and a receiver. He was New England’s best running back in 2019 (when healthy) and is my bet to win the early-down role. Burkhead appeared to steal the job from Michel last year when he recorded 11 carries in Week 3. However, he quickly suffered an injury and split snaps the rest of the way.

Damien Harris, meanwhile, possesses the intrigue of the unknown. The 2019 third-round pick played a whopping five snaps last year, but it’s not uncommon for Bill Belichick to make his rookies earn their role on the team. Burkhead has seniority, but he also comes packed to the brim with injury concerns. Last year, Burkhead only had one game with double-digit carries, so it stands to reason that Harris could get some work.

Fantasy football is all about capturing upside, and neither player carries too much of that. However, if I had to draft one, I’d take Burkhead. Belichick values experience, and Burkhead is capable of making plays in the passing game that Harris simply can’t. Harris’ best-case scenario is being a two-down back in a bad offense, wheras Burkhead as least possess some interesting upside in PPR leagues. However, the best value in this backfield remains the guy we haven’t talked about yet.

James White

The only running back in New England that actually has a locked-in role is James White. The pass-catching specialist is a fixture in this offense and should be a weekly flex play in PPR leagues. New England’s pass-catching depth chart is absolutely terrible, as everyone aside from Julian Edelman is either old or untested (and Edelman is no spring chicken himself).

There is a very real chance James White finishes the year with the second-most targets on the team. Cam Newton will throw to a running back if that running back can catch the ball, and White is one of the best receiving backs in the league. White will always be a receiving back first and foremost, but he could offer some value on the ground.

New England’s running back depth suffered serious injury in 2018, and White recorded 98 carries. This isn’t much on its own, but it’s a nice add-on for a guy that should have plenty of targets. Even when the running backs stayed healthy in 2019, White still managed to record 67 rushing attempts along with his 72 receptions. With Michel out of the picture, there are a few more carries to go around. White should get some of these and should easily be the most productive member of this backfield. He’s currently going off the board as the RB31 in PPR and should easily outproduce his draft position.

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