Heath Miller was a player who was on the field for virtually every meaningful offensive snap that the Pittsburgh Steelers took from 2005 to 2015 unless he was injured. It goes without saying that the offense if going to look a bit different heading into next season without him.
I wrote just yesterday about the fact that the Steelers should consider involving four-wide receiver sets a bit more into their offense without Miller, assuming that four of their five top skill position players end up being wide receivers, which seems a reasonable claim.
Pittsburgh doesn’t have, and isn’t likely to acquire, the resources to duplicate Miller either as a blocker or a receiver that can carry his workload, so they shouldn’t try. Over the course of his career, the first-round draft pick caught 592 passes for 6569 yards and 45 touchdowns, which equates to 54 receptions, 598 yards, and four touchdowns per season.
And those numbers largely trended upwards over the course of his career. The Steelers would be foolish to assume that they could plug in a body and replicate Miller’s work as a receiver. And they won’t, according to general manager Kevin Colbert.
Addressing the media from the Combine yesterday, Colbert expressed a similar sentiment, saying that a tight end plugged in or brought in “might contribute more in the passing game with other teams than they would with us, because we have some other weapons available”.
The Steelers have had most of those weapons for a while now, of course, but Miller has still been productive. He has averaged 64 receptions, 676 yards, and 3.5 touchdowns over the course of his final four seasons in the league.
Miller was still heavily involved in the passing game in Pittsburgh in spite of having one of the league’s elite pass-catching running backs and a first-team All-Pro wide receiver, among other quality pieces around him, because he commanded the ball and proved routinely reliable in converting third downs, making tough catches, and rarely putting the ball on the ground.
Miller’s was a rare talent that sort of wedged itself into the Pittsburgh offense that would not typically use him the way that he was used—that is, an integral part of the passing offense. There is a reason, after all, why his numbers are far more significant as a receiver than about any other tight end in team history.
“Without a Heath Miller, you still have an Antonio Brown, you still have a Le’Veon Bell, a Markus Wheaton, a Martavis Bryant, Colbert said. “So I don’t know how big a part of the pass offense a tight end would be. It will depend on their abilities as players to contribute within our group”.
This seems the most reasonable approach to take, to be sure. It doesn’t figure to be likely that the Steelers will enter the 2016 season with a workhorse tight end in the lineup, but rather a bit of a committee with Jesse James, Matt Spaeth, and whoever else might be part of the equation. And while Ben Roethlisberger is not one to shy away from any target, none of them will figure to step into the role that Miller carved out for himself in the passing game.