When the Dolphins parted with Lamar Miller in March, unwilling to pay him the $6 million per year he wanted despite having the cap space then and now to accommodate that, they figured it wouldn’t be difficult to find a replacement.
Fast forward six months.
After two games, Miller has 189 yards rushing for the Houston Texans, fifth in the league and more than twice the rushing yards generated by all of Miami’s running backs.
In fact, 27 NFL running backs, by themselves, have accounted for more rushing yards than the 82 yards, on 25 carries, that Dolphins’ backs have produced.
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And Miami’s already suspect running back is even weaker now after losing Arian Foster, who is out for a undetermined amount of time with a groin injury.
That means Miami will need to turn to disappointing Jay Ajayi, rookie Kenyan Drake, or perhaps Damien Williams or Isaiah Pead to carry the load.
It didn’t need to be this way, of course.
Despite Adam Gase’s desire to re-sign Miller, the Dolphins front office never felt comfortable paying Miller more than $4 million to $5 million per year and felt no inclination to match, let alone top, the Houston Texans’ four-year, $26 million offer.
In each of his first two games, the Texans gave Miller more carries than he ever had in a game in Miami (28 and 25). The Dolphins felt he wouldn’t be as effective, or wear out physically, if they gave him that big a workload, even though his metrics showed he often ran well in games with substantial carries.
Miller’s 3.6 per carry average is below his career average, but he has contributed substantially in two Houston wins.
The Dolphins also could have signed ex-Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte, but apparently weren’t inclined to top the three-year, $12 million offer that the Jets gave him. Forte’s 196 rushing yards (on 3.8 per carry) rank second in the league through two games.
They also failed to land C.J. Anderson, with Denver matching the offer to the restricted free agent. He’s sixth in the league in rushing with 166 yards, on 4.2 per carry.
The made an offer to Chris Johnson, who instead opted to stay in Arizona, where his numbers so far have been modest this season: 56 yards on 3.3 per carry.
Meanwhile, Dolphins running backs are slogging along at a meager 3.3 per carry.
The Dolphins are 25th in rushing yards (with 134) and 17th in per carry average (at 3.7) but both of those figures are inflated by the rushing totals for quarterback Ryan Tannehill (11 for 52).
Among Miami’s backs, none have particularly distinguished themselves since early August, with the exception of Pead, who ran for 99 yards (on 6.6 per carry) in preseason but then injured his hamstring and was a healthy scratch against New England.
Ajayi averaged a mediocre 3.8 per carry last season, just 2.7 in preseason and 2.8 in his first game of the season on Sunday (5 for 14). What’s more, he fumbled in each of his last two games (the preseason finale and Sunday).
Drake ran twice for 12 yards on Sunday and figures to get an extended look. He had just four preseason carries (for six yards) because of injury but averaged 6.4 per carry at Alabama.
Williams, who wasn’t active Sunday, has a career 3.5 average on 54 attempts.
Pead has just 19 regular-season NFL carries and averaged 4.1 on those attempts, all for the Rams between 2012 and 2015.
So where do the Dolphins find a starting-caliber NFL running back? They must hope Ajayi becomes substantially better or Drake – who had durability issues at Alabama – can handle a bigger load. They also could reconsider playing Pead.
But even Foster clearly wasn’t the panacea. Before his injury Sunday, Foster was averaging just 2.9 per carry (16 for 47) for Miami this season after averaging 2.4 in four games last season and rushing for five yards on seven preseason carries.
On Sunday, Foster had 10 snaps before leaving with the injury. Ajayi had 37 and Drake 18.
THIS AND THAT
• Cam Wake played a surprisingly low 16 of Miami’s 80 defensive snaps Sunday and doesn’t have a sack or tackle in either of the first two games.
• Mario Williams had just one tackle Sunday, which isn’t shocking considering he had just 19 in 15 games for Buffalo last season. That was by the far the fewest number of tackles for a defensive end who played nearly as many snaps as Williams did last season.
• With DeVante Parker back, Leonte Carroo’s snaps dropped from 45 to 10 on Sunday.
• Dolphins’ tight end snaps were fairly even: Jordan Cameron had 38 and Dion Sims 33. Miami had 65 offensive snaps.
• Defensively, four players played all 80 snaps: Isa Abdul Quddus, Byron Maxwell, Kiko Alonso and Reshad Jones. Xavien Howard played 74, and Ndamukong Suh and Jelani Jenkins 61.
• Parker caught 8 of 13 targets and Jarvis Landry 9 of 10.
• Pro Football Focus gave Miami’s top offensive grades to Ryan Tannehill, DeVante Parker and Branden Albert, and its top defensive grades to Suh, Koa Misi and oddly enough, Williams.