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Kendre Miller

Rookie could be key running back for Saints

Alvin Kamara likely will be suspended for six games, opening the door for some other running back in New Orleans in make an impact. On that front, Kendre Miller looks more compelling than Jamaal Williams.

Kamara hasn’t been suspended yet, but that likely will occur before the start of the season. He’s due in court on July 31 to face felony battery charges related to an incident that occurred during Pro Bowl weekend in Las Vegas a year and a half ago. The league has been waiting for the legal process to play out before taking any action.

Based on the wording of the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy and the handling of other cases, Kamara is probably looking at a six-game suspension (even if he’s found not guilty). And at the point, the door will be wide open for another back to step into a larger role.

Early in the offseason, the Saints signed Williams to a contract averaging $4 million. That’s good money in today’s deflated running back market. Williams last year for the Lions had the best season of his career, rushing for 1,066 yards and a league-high 17 rushing touchdowns.

While 17 touchdowns is an impressive total, Williams was helped along by a huge dose of carries around the goal line. With a good offensive line, the Lions heavily featured the run around the end zone. Williams carried the ball 34 times inside the 5-yard line, the most by any player in over 20 years. (All but 3 of his touchdowns came in that part of the field.)

With the Saints, Williams is wildly unlikely to get even a third as many carries in that area. New Orleans won’t run the ball as much, and they’ve got more other players they’ll use as ball carriers (including Taysom Hill).

Also note that while the touchdowns make it seem like Williams is a great short-yardage and goal-line runner, that’s not really the case. It’s not supported by the numbers anyway. Last year there were 23 running backs who carried the ball at least 10 times when their teams were looking to punch out a key yard (at either the goal-line or in a third-and-one or fourth-and-one situation), and over half of them converted a higher percentage of their carries. (There were 12 quarterbacks with at least 10 of those carries, and they all converted at a higher rate than Williams.)

"AND ONE" RUSHING (running backs only)
Player"Good"AttPct
Ezekiel Elliott, Dall.192095.0%
Derrick Henry, Ten.141593.3%
James Conner, Ariz.161888.9%
Cam Akers, LAR131586.7%
Dameon Pierce, Hou.121485.7%
Devin Singletary, Buff.111384.6%
Tyler Allgeier, Atl.101283.3%
Brian Robinson, Was.162080.0%
Tony Pollard, Dall.81172.7%
Latavius Murray, N.O.81172.7%
Joe Mixon, Cin.101471.4%
Josh Jacobs, L.V.121770.6%
Austin Ekeler, LAC121770.6%
Rachaad White, T.B.91369.2%
Jamaal Williams, Det.202969.0%
AJ Dillon, G.B.101566.7%
Travis Etienne, Jac.101566.7%
Christian McCaffrey, 2tms132065.0%
Jonathan Taylor, Ind.91464.3%
Kenneth Walker, Sea.91464.3%
Nick Chubb, Cle.61060.0%
Leonard Fournette, T.B.111957.9%
Dalvin Cook, Min.41040.0%

If we set aside the short-yardage work and look at more usual running back work, Williams is a lesser back, as evidenced by both the Packers and Lions being willing to let him go. He doesn’t have much speed or elusiveness. D’Andre Swift in Detroit last year averaged over a yard per more carry.

Bottom line, Williams is being overvalued due to those touchdowns. Moving to a new team and providing limited receiving ability, Williams is in line for a reduced role.

Given the lay of the land, Miller is an interesting later-round prospect. Despite having already signed Williams, the Saints selected Miller with the 71st pick of the draft.

Miller ran for 1,399 yards and 17 touchdowns at Texas Christian last year. The previous season (as a sophomore) he outproduced Zach Evans (who was good enough to be picked in the sixth round by the Rams after transferring to Ole Miss). Miller is a one-cut back with good acceleration, combined with good contact balance for his size. He was measured at 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds at the combine, but the Saints are listing him an inch taller and 5 pounds heavier.

A knee injury may have contributed to Miller lasting until the third round. He was unable to run at the combine. But the Saints don’t seem concerned about the knee (they did, after all, make him the fourth running back chosen).

With Miller not yet 100 percent (with the knee), he did not participate in OTAs. But reports suggest he’ll be ready for training camp. The Saints backfield is one to monitor as Kamara’s legal situation is processed. The draft capital, college production and overall game suggest Miller could be an early contributor – definitely a player everyone should be watching closely.

—Michael Spoto

Spoto is a finance professional, fantasy football analyst and professional esports player based in Staten Island. He graduated with a degree in business administration from the University of Albany, SUNY. He competes in redraft fantasy leagues.

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