I don't need to tell the readership of Behind the Steel Curtain how great Heath Miller is and has been. Although underrated nationally, the humble tight end has always been given his due appreciation here.
As such, there is little need to devote further time elucidating his many qualities, but humour me for a second.
Selected 30th overall in the 2005 NFL Draft, Miller has been a stallwart in a Steelers offense that has went to three Super Bowls, winning two.
The phrase security blanket is wheeled out almost any time Heath Miller is mentioned, but that's ok because it is a very apt description for what Miller is, a safety valve for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Rarely is he the primary target on any given play, but Miller's ability to work short and intermediate routes, football IQ and high level chemistry with his quarterback means Miller is always Big Ben's first target when things don't go to plan.
Which, with a notoriously gun slinging quarterback, is rather often.
Miller is often referred as a traditional, "all-round" tight end. This is because he combines his capability as a receiver with his ability to block effectively in the run game, both in-line and out in space. This all-round'ness is becoming increasingly accredited to Miller because a tight end who possesses these skills in today's NFL is a rarity, in fact the bred is almost entirely extinct.
That's why there is little doubt Miller is the best all-round tight end in the NFL, and there are few of his peers I would trade him in for. Never regarded as a freakish athlete, especially compared to the monsters being churned out to play tight end these days, Miller is the embodiment of the "put all the little things together" theory, a consummate professional.
Humble, hard-working, unassuming, underrated, under appreciated...blah blah blah you get the point right? HEEEEEEEEEEATH!
Heath is a fan favourite, certainly a Steelers legend of this particular era, but where does he rank among the Steelers all-time greats?
Remember when all the talk a few months ago was about hypothetical sports team's Mount Rushmore's? Well, he's not on there.
Of course he's not, considering the Steelers all-time team would probably give the Space Jam monsters football team a good run for their money. The Steelers Mount Rushmore consists of some of the very greatest to ever play the game.
So where does that leave Heath? Admittedly I've always thought of him as a great franchise player, you know the one who carves out a space for himself in a certain generation of fans hearts, but not an all-time great, not a franchise legend.
Upon further review, I was wrong with that assumption. Miller deserves to be recognised as one of the best players to play for the greatest franchise in the NFL.
First of all, he waltzes into that team that's taking on the Space Jam monsters.
Per Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune, this is a list of the best receiving seasons by a Steelers tight end.
|Name/ Year||Receiving Yards||Receptions||Touchdowns|
|Heath Miller 2009||789||76||6|
|2.Heath Miller 2012||816||71||8|
|3.Eric Green 1993||942||63||5|
|4.Heath Miller 2013||593||58||1|
|5.Heath Miller 2011||631||51||2|
|6.Heath Miller 2008||514||48||3|
|7.Heath Miller 2007||566||47||7|
|8.Eric Green 1994||618||46||4|
|9.John Hilton 1996||603||46||4|
|10.Heath Miller 2010||512||42||2|
It goes without saying , that is complete domination. Of course the Steelers have never featured a particularly prominent tight end before Heath Miller, but that doesn't take anything away from the fact Miller is far and away the best to ever play the position for the franchise.
Miller has the 5th most receiving yards of any Steelers player in history, 200 yards behind Hall of Famer Lynn Swann, with 5,273 yards. If he plays for another two years, which he will, It's pretty likely that he will eclipse Louis Lipps in third place, who has 6,018 yards, leaving him behind only John Stallworth and Hines Ward.
As for receptions, Miller currently sits third, 71 receptions behind John Stallworth. With a good showing in 2014 Miller could easily find himself well on his way to overtaking Stallworth.
In addition, he is 11 touchdowns away from third place all-time. It is certainly realistic to expect two solid seasons could lock up that accolade for Miller as well.
So in summary Miller, barring a serious injury or an incredibly steep decline in play, could realistically finish his Pittsburgh Steelers career with the second most receptions and the third most touchdowns and receiving yards of any player in franchise history. Even factoring in the gradual dominance of offenses today, that is a remarkable feat for a tight end in a franchise with two HOF receivers and one almost certainly on his way.
Have I mentioned yet that Miller is rarely the focal receiving point of the offense?
This bring sme to my next point, again per Alan Robinson of the the Pittsburgh Tribune.
Even while playing in an offense that never emphasized throwing to the tight end, Miller has 466 catches — the fourth-most among all NFL tight ends over the past nine seasons. He has made those catches while being targeted only 652 times — or nearly 500 times fewer than 13-time Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez during that span.
That is actually a remarkable statistic, and if ever there was an advertisement for sure hands that would be it. Despite playing in an offense that has never emphasised the tight end as a receiver, especially not by today's standards, Miller is still 4th out of any tight end during his entire career. And that is playing with some of the most productive tight ends in history in Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez.
And of course, like Hines Ward, there is the blocking. It's not quantifiable, but Miller has been good at it. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but Miller has probably spent more time blocking in-line than Gonzalez and Gates combined. Utilize you're strenghts and all that...
And now my final point, Heath Miller appears poised to achieve a rare feat, one that is becoming rarer as each year goes by. After signing an extension this off-season, he will likely retire a Steeler for life, and that's nothing to be sniffed at. Almost a requirement for an all time great some would say.
Nine years in, and at age 31, Heath Miller has enjoyed a fantastic career. Three Super Bowl appearances, two wins, a handful of team records for the tight end position and an impressive place on the all time Steelers leader board for touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards.
Not to mention a stellar reputation within the league and the loving adoration of the fan base.
At this juncture, I would certainly count Heath Miller among the best Steelers to ever play the game. Although he will never see the Hall of Fame, he is certainly in the same conversation as Joey Porter, Casey Hampton, James Harrison and James Farrior.
With one serious injury in his career (requiring him to miss only three games) and a contract taking him through to 2016, Miller has more than enough time to add to his long list of achievements.
When father time comes knocking a few years from now, Miller should be mentioned in the same breath as other Steelers legends such as Stallworth and Swann, at least that's what the statistics suggests.
Often the topic of the greatest Steelers ever comes down to personal preference, or what particular era you're formative years happened to fall on. There are a great many things which factor into the equation, and that's part of the fun of course.
For my money, Heath Miller's name should, and will be etched in amongst that select few some day, those who can be considered the very best to ever wear the black and gold.