One of the biggest bargains on draft day is going to be Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller. The 30 year old pro was very quietly the TE4 last year overall, and the TE5 in points per game. He’s currently available in redraft as the 17th tight end in the 13th round, and in dynasty he can be all yours for the price of an early 14th round pick as the 24th tight end selected.
Prior to the arrival of offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Miller was entirely under the radar. Bruce Arian’s vertical scheme does not involve the tight end. Miller’s 2009 season where he caught 76 passes for 789 yards and 6 touchdowns is the best season by an Arians coached tight end ever. Outside of 2010, Miller has run about 450 routes per year; he just never received the amount of targets he needed to produce in fantasy. The below table shows Miller’s yards per route run, average depth of target, and number of targets for the last 4 years:
Miller’s yards per route run skyrocketed in Haley’s short passing scheme, ranking him 4th of qualifying tight ends last season. Haley turned Miller from decoy to offensive focal point in one season. While it may just be a coincidence, I found it interesting that the 2 years Miller’s aDOT was under 8, he was a top 6 tight end. In 2010 and 2011, Miller was more of an afterthought – the 3rd or 4th read – who was targeted by Roethlisberger only after the play broke down, causing the aDOT to rise. With Haley in town, Miller no longer has to play second fiddle to the Steeler’s wide receiver munchkins.
Adding to the idea that Bruce Arians wildly misused Miller, here are his red zone targets over the last 4 years:
Outside of 2009 (and 2007, not shown), Arians never used Miller in the red zone, even though Miller was the only capable red zone threat on the team. The Steelers love their wide receivers short and light; Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, Hines Ward, Nate Washington, and Santonio Holmes have all caught passes in Pittsburgh during Arians’ tenure. Looking at the Steelers wide receivers during that period, we can see that none of them were particularly effective at scoring touchdowns:
Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes were above average in the red zone given their size, but none of them can touch Miller’s career 38% red zone touchdown rate. Despite this, Miller only received more than 10 red zone targets in 2 of the 5 years Arians was the offensive coordinator. Todd Haley, who loves his wide receivers big (Larry Fitzgerald/Anquan Boldin in Arizona, Dwayne Bowe/Jon Baldwin in Kansas City), quickly rectified this, and Miller led the team in red zone targets last year. Pittsburgh brought in yet another undersized wide receiver in Markus Wheaton, and with the departure of Mike Wallace, it’s safe to say that Miller will lead the team in red zone targets again.
What does the RotoViz Similarity Score app think of Miller next year? Compared to a few tight ends being drafted before him, he’s stacks up very well:
Antonio Gates is on his last legs; how he’s being drafted as the TE9 is beyond me. Jermichael Finley and Owen Daniels’ projected high points per game are lower/the same as Miller’s median projection. I’m amazed the Packers haven’t given up on Finley yet, and even more amazed that fantasy drafters are still taking him as a TE1. Owen Daniels has been a poor in the red zone the last 3 years (22% touchdown percentage), and could be 3rd in the pecking order behind Andre Johnson and rotoViz favorite/red zone monster DeAndre Hopkins. If I had to choose between taking Finley in the 10th and Miller in the 13th, it’s a very easy choice.
The big question mark with Miller is his health: he tore his ACL, MCL, and PCL during a week 16 game against the Bengals. All accounts are that his recovery is going well, and knee injuries aren’t nearly as severe as they used to be. Still, with that amount of ligament damage, there is concern about knee stability and how quickly he’ll be able to get onto the field. Using Miller’s Season N+1 average, we can approximate his value depending on how many games he plays. Below is the average of Miller’s Season N+1 comps:
There is a chance that Miller lands on the Physically Unable to Perform list, and the projections below take into account that possibility. I think it’s unlikely to happen, but I also don’t think Miller is going to come into the season and post career highs in targets and yards 10 months after shredding up his knee. If the Steelers feared he wouldn’t be back in time for the season, they would’ve drafted a tight end, or signed someone better than Matt Spaeth. They had a chance to take Tyler Eifert in the draft, but passed in favor of Jarvis Jones. Their lack of action speaks to how well they believe Miller’s recovery is going. The 12 game approximation is probably close to accurate, given that it takes athletes a few weeks to trust their surgically repaired knee again. Miller could spend the first month or so getting his football legs back, before continuing what he started last year. Extrapolating his Season N+1 average, we get the following projections:
Miller’s 12 game estimation would’ve made him the TE6 last year, and the 10 game projection would’ve put him as the TE17. If you don’t go tight end early with Jimmy Graham, it makes sense to wait it out. Projecting the top tight ends is going to be a nightmare, so why not sit back and grab wide receivers and running backs while your leaguemates reach on players like Jared Cook and Kyle Rudolph? Target a player like Greg Olsen in the 12th, then come around in the 13th and grab Heath Miller. You’ll have two top 6 producers from last year with positive outlooks this year. As a bonus, your team will be stacked a wide receiver and running back since you waited so long on tight end. How many tight ends with top 3 upside are available in the 13th round? If Miller does hit the PUP list, you won’t even have to draft him. He then becomes a great streaming option for those who subscribe to C.D. Carter’s addiction.
Speaking of a positive outlook…
Miller’s positive comps are three of the best pass catching tight ends in the last decade: Antonio Gates, Dallas Clark, and Tony Gonzalez. Is it likely that Miller comes back and has an Antonio Gates/Dallas Clark-esque 1,000 yard receiving season? No, but the arrow is surely pointing up for the 30 year old, and he’s exactly the kind of upside play I’ll roster in the 13th round. To summarize:
- He’ll be heavily targeted
- He’s a good red zone receiver
- He was very efficient last year on a per route basis
- He’s available for next to nothing
I’ll be monitoring the buzz coming out of Steelers OTAs and minicamp, and assuming he’s healthy, Miller is going to be on a ton of my teams.