Spotlight - TE Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers
Posted 8/25 by Jason Wood and Marc Levin,
Exclusive to Footballguys.com
Jason Wood's Thoughts
- 24 receptions/389 yards/2 TDs
- 35 receptions/347 yards/1 TD
- 25 receptions/330 yards/3 TDs
- 16 receptions/206 yards/1 TD
- 34 receptions/363 yards/1 TD
- 33 receptions/368 yards/2 TDs
Care to guess what those numbers represent?
The rookie totals for Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Alge Crumpler, Todd Heap, Bubba Franks and Tony Gonzalez, respectively.
While they're all highly productive fantasy pass catchers now, they all struggled to make a major impact as rookies. This is not to say that rookies absolutely can't make an impact, Jeremy Shockey caught 74 passes for 894 yards and 2 scores as a rookie, but that may be the exception that proves the rule.
So while it's nice to recognize Heath Miller as this year's highly regarded tight end prospect, and it's worth noting that the Steelers coaching staff is paying him lip service several weeks into practice, don't let your imagination run wild in terms of expectations for 2005.
- Miller is drawing rave reviews from the coaching staff and appears assured of starting from the outset
- With the loss of Plaxico Burress, the Steelers need to find an additional red zone option and Miller fits the bill
- Steelers OC Ken Whisenhunt is a former tight end, and has vowed to make better use of the position this year
- Rookie tight ends rarely make an impact regardless of their potential
- The Steelers have a long history of ignoring the position
- The Steelers offense is the most run heavy in the league and unlike Alge Crumpler in Atlanta, the Steelers first option when they do pass will be a WR (Hines Ward)
Heath Miller is a talented, multifaceted rookie tight end who should be able to stay on the field in any down and distance. His receiving skills likely point to a long and fruitful career in Pittsburgh, and he could ultimately be part of the renaissance we're seeing at the position league wide. But, given the run heavy nature of the offense, and the history of lackluster productivity from rookie tight ends, don't spend anything more than a late round selection on Miller and strictly as a backup.
Marc Levin's Thoughts
It has been since 1994, when Eric Green had 46 catches for 618 yards and 4 TDs, since the Pittsburgh Steelers have had a fantasy force at tight end. He ranked sixth for fantasy TEs that year. Since then, the Steelers TEs have averaged 19.6 catches per year COMBINED – with a high mark way back in 1995 of 37 catches, 351 yards and 3 TDs by a combination of Mark Bruener and Jonathan Hayes.
But, this is a copy-cat league. There is a proliferation of pass catching TEs in the NFL that has not been seen since the mid to late 80s. So, as anticipated, the Steelers spent their 2005 first round draft pick on Virginia’s Heath Miller, who was the highest rated TE in the draft. He is 6’5”, 256 pounds, and a very fluid receiver. He has great hands; he is extremely intelligent, football savvy, and a quick study. All the news out of the Steelers’ training camp is that he has been an extremely quick learner and has picked up the offense quickly. His training camp has been described as “perfect.”
Here’s a comment from HC Bill Cowher:
"The way he's picked up the offense -- we've moved him around quite a bit -- and he really has not missed an assignment.”
And from OC Ken Whisenhunt:
"He catches the ball extremely well, especially away from his body. He does a good job separating on his routes at the top. But the thing that really stands out is his blocking.”
So far, he has not been included in the team’s preseason passing game – he had 1 catch for 5 yards in two preseason games as of this writing. And this should raise a red flag for fantasy owners. Even though I have no doubt Miller will eventually be worked into the Pittsburgh passing game, the team would, right now, have to write plays specifically for Miller. The evidence from the last decade shows that passing plays for the tight end are way down the list in the Pittsburgh playbook.
Also, the reason that the vast majority of rookie TEs have statistically poor first years is that teams want those players to concentrate on their first job – blocking. There is a lot of information for a rookie TE to absorb, and he must process his job of protecting the quarterback, or executing a solid run block, while 275 pound defensive ends, 250 pound linebackers, and hard hitting missiles known as strong safeties are bearing down.
While it is a good thing that Miller is picking up his assignments in the Steelers’ offense quickly, he will have to translate that knowledge into production against a significantly higher level of competition than he has ever faced – and the Steelers face some of the best defenses in the league in 2005, including Ray Lewis and the Ravens twice.
The positive side is that Miller is stepping into a potentially excellent situation to produce good fantasy numbers. All the pieces are there. First, he is on a team that has a top-notch passing attack (the Steelers were 1st in rush attempts and 2nd in rush yardage in 2004). There appears to be a correlation between solid rushing attacks and tight end receiving production. Consider the top five fantasy TEs in points per game in 2004: Todd Heap was #5 and Baltimore is a run-based offense. Alge Crumpler was #4 and the Falcons led the league in rushing yards. Jason Witten was #3 and, though the Cowboys final rushing numbers were not overly impressive, all of Witten’s good games except the game against the Eagles occurred when the team rushed for over 100 yards. Gonzales and Gates at #1 and #2 are obvious.
Second, due to Pittsburgh’s rush attack; defenses will have to bring defenders into the box, leaving space for Miller to operate in the flat, or in the seams down the center of the field. Third, with the receiving options after Hines Ward a question mark, Miller might evolve into the second best receiving threat on the team. Fourth, a solid pass-catching TE is a young quarterback’s best friend. Fifth, the team needs a big goal line receiving threat now that Plaxico Burress is gone, and Miller could easily fit the bill. Right now, the only wide receiver on the team over 6 feet tall is backup Lee Mays.
The surprising thing about Miller is his projected draft spot in fantasy drafts. He is projected to be a relatively cheap TE2, when he should probably be considered a TE flyer. FootballGuys.com’s latest “top-300” list ranks him as TE22 with an average draft position of 153 (13th round in a 12-team draft). Antsports.com’s 12-team ADP information lists him as the TE15 at 13.05. That is actually a pretty high price to pay for a rookie TE on a team without a recent history of using that position in the passing game.
- Top-rated tight end in the 2005 draft, a first round pick, who had a great receiving history in college.
- Pittsburgh has a run-based offense, which is often conducive to good receiving numbers from the TE.
- The lack of a clear-cut second receiving option after Hines Ward and the lack of a big receiver on the team could open up opportunities for Miller – especially later in the season.
- Very few rookie TEs put up good statistics in their first year.
- Pittsburgh has not involved the tight end in the passing game for the last decade, averaging under 20 catches per year to the tight end position since 1995.
- Miller carries a relatively high fantasy draft position for a player who is, essentially, a flyer.
If everyone in your individual draft overlooks Miller, and you can acquire him well below his current 13th round ADP in 12-team leagues, he may be a decent TE2 or TE3 to take as a flyer. If you are someone who will only roster backup TEs who have the potential to end the year as a decent fantasy option, then take a pass. If you get him relatively cheaply, Miller is a TE2 with, potentially, a very nice upside – especially later in the season after the team figures out how they will best utilize him and after he has had some time to acclimate himself to the NFL. If you are in a dynasty league, grab Miller and stash him. Many great rookie TEs have poor numbers in their first years and simply explode in years two and three.
Quotations from the Message Board Thread
To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there),
I think Heath Miller is a better prospect for this season than some are giving him credit for. To wit :
1) While Steeler TEs don't traditionally get a lot of catches, they DO score TDs. Pittsburgh loves to run the play-action bootleg at the goal line in which Roethlisberger will roll out, Miller will slip his block and be wide open in the back of the end zone. The Steelers run this play better than anyone, primarily because teams are forced to commit heavily to the run if they hope to keep Bettis on the safe side of the goal line. Tuman and Riemersma combined for 5 TDs last year, almost exclusively on this type of play.
2) Cowher has intimated that he is very high on Miller's ability as a receiver. I can't imagine the Steelers would have used a #1 pick this year (with a need for a big downfield target) on a TE if he were going to be a blocker in the Bruener/Tuman mold. Miller is not considered an elite prospect as a blocker - he IS considered a great pass catcher. Cowher has already said that he likes the "dimension Miller can bring to the offense"; it seems unlikely he is referring to his blocking capabilities. I firmly believe that with a developing QB and the investment they are making in Miller that they fully intend to expand the TE role in their offense.
3) Miller is their only "big" target (and Roethlisberger LOVES a big target.) With Burress gone, they are left with Ward, Randle-El, and Cedrick Wilson as their primary pass catchers - I believe Ward is the tallest of the bunch at about 6' or 6' 1" This makes jump-balls in the end zone (which Plax had trouble catching) Miller's territory now.
I find it hard to believe that he will put up starter quality stats at all. Not only is PIT's offense not produced any decent TE stats in recent memory but how many rookie TEs have produced these numbers in the last decade?
Pittsburgh's offense hasn't produced good TE stats because they haven't had a good pass catching TE. He is the best TE they have had since Eric Green in 1993. You can't throw if you have no one to throw to, not the other way around.
Heath Miller Projections
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