The Pittsburgh Steelers well underway with the offseason workouts at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the heart of the offseason, where hope springs eternal following a few months of pretty significant changes, in terms of both departures and arrivals.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Will Vance McDonald break Heath Miller’s career-highs in receiving this year?
With Antonio Brown no longer with the Steelers, there is a big void to fill, and filling it will be a job that requires all hands on deck from every skill position. The production lost isn’t going to just be made up by other wide receivers. It’s also going to be asked of the tight ends and running backs to produce even more.
Relative to those who already had a large role last season, nobody will be asked more of in 2019, I think, than tight end Vance McDonald, who is entering his third season with the team. After being traded for in August of 2017, McDonald had an injury-plagued and sluggishly unproductive season, but he put up very solid numbers a season ago, flashing the potential for more.
He figures to have a bigger role in 2019, and should easily see more than the 72 targets that came his way a year ago, which he turned into 50 receptions for 610 yards and four touchdowns. On paper, it doesn’t sound like it would be overwhelmingly difficult to set new career-highs in every category, provided that he stays healthy.
But could he break some franchise records? Or at least pass Miller’s highest marks? In particular, can he surpass Miller’s 816 receiving yards? The team record for the position is actually Eric Green‘s 942, but that’s pretty ambitious. McDonald came up 206 yard shy of Miller’s high in 15 games. Assuming he plays all 16 games, he would need to average about 13 yards per game more than he did last year on a prorated rate.
Miller, not surprisingly, holds the team record for receptions in a season by a tight end at 76, which he did in 2009, on 98 targets (his career-high is 101). 1950s star Elbie Nickel’s nine touchdowns in 1952 is actually the team record for the most touchdowns by a ‘tight end’ in a single season (Miller’s best was eight).