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With Antonio Bryant and Le'Veon Bell accounting for nearly 50 percent of Ben Roethlisberger's targets, it's perhaps surprising that Miller's targets actually increased last season. The extra work helped him post his second-most catches and yards in the last five years. But his eight-touchdown 2012 looks more and more like an aberration as he's totaled four scores the last two years. Miller's yardage is not enough to make him useful to fantasy owners if he doesn't find the end zone. Last year, he had seven games with 35 yards or less. At 6-5, 256, Miller is still used in the red zone, but he didn't convert many of his targets into scores last season — just three on 16 targets. Miller, who turns 33 in October, could see less work in the passing game because the Steelers have a number of young wideouts vying for targets. Plus, Roethlisberger likely will regress from last year's career-high 608 attempts.
Miller missed the first two games last year still recovering from a severe late-season knee injury from 2012. He never regained the level of production he enjoyed the previous year, settling into an inconsistent role in the offense. Rookie Le'Veon Bell emerged as a skilled receiver out of the backfield, stealing targets from Miller, who became little more than a safety valve for Ben Roethlisberger. His 10.2 yards per catch was a career low and he scored just one touchdown. And after 20 red-zone targets in 2012, Miller went back to more of a blocking role last season with only nine red-zone targets. Miller is a big target at 6-5, 256, but lacks top-end speed. At 31-years-old, his best days may be behind him, though further removed from his injury, he still has a chance to re-kindle some of his previous on-field rapport with Roethlisberger.
The biggest surprise among tight ends last season, Miller posted career highs of 816 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, thanks to 101 targets, second on the team to Mike Wallace. Miller also posted a career-high 20 red-zone targets, including 14 inside the 10 and a whopping nine inside the five, the most by a tight end since 2009. In years past, Miller stayed in to help the offensive line with pass protection and had topped 75 targets just once in his career.
Miller almost certainly would have set a career high in receptions, too had he not torn the ACL, PCL and MCL in his right knee in Week 16. Coming back from such a serious injury will prove difficult – Miller is expected to miss most of training camp and likely won’t be 100 percent healthy for Week 1.
Miller turned in an almost identical season on a per-game basis to his previous one, indicating his 76-789-6 season in 2009 was likely an outlier. His usual numbers translate into little fantasy value at tight end. Miller has had no more than last year’s 75 targets in any season other than his career year in 2009. He scored two touchdowns for the second season in a row and has totaled only 18 red-zone targets the last two seasons combined. While Miller is a big target (6-5, 256) with soft hands, he lacks speed to get to the second level. The emergence of Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace has buried him as a receiving option, and it’s unlikely he’ll suddenly experience a fantasy boom this season.
Coming off a career year, Miller battled through a concussion in 2010 and turned in numbers more in line with previous seasons. Moreover, Miller’s elite blocking skills were needed after Pittsburgh’s offensive line suffered a rash of injuries. This led to 32 fewer targets than in the previous season and 277 fewer yards. He also saw less work in the red zone where he saw his targets fall from 17 in 2009 to eight last season for a career-low two touchdowns. If the offensive line is at full strength, and if Miller stays healthy, you can expect a bounce back, especially in the scoring department.
Miller had a career year in Pittsburgh last
season with 76 receptions for 789 yards. The
boost in production was a result of 98 targets, a
sharp increase from his previous career high of
65. Blessed with great hands and an accurate
quarterback, Miller led all tight ends with a 78-
percent reception rate. But while he was
targeted 17 times in the red zone (third among
TE) and eight times inside the 10, he disappointingly
scored only six touchdowns.
Miller was also inconsistent week to week,
totaling less than 40 yards in half his games.
Working against him this season is the Ben
Roethlisberger suspension (4-6 weeks), which
will negatively impact his early-season production
— nearly a third of a fantasy season sans
playoffs. Miller will still be a decent late-draft
option, but it would be ambitious to expect him
to duplicate last year’s career numbers.
Miller missed three regular-season games with a high-ankle sprain last season and was not 100 percent when he returned. Even when he was healthy, Pittsburgh’s porous offensive line required Miller to stay in and pass-block more than in previous seasons. Starting the season healthy, Miller should improve his 2008 touchdown total (3) and surpass 500 receiving yards for the third straight season. His upside is somewhat limited by the way the Steelers use him between the 20s, but he does have 27 red-zone looks in the last three seasons, despite missing games last year with the ankle injury.
For years, the Steelers employed a bunch of
good blockers at tight end who rarely got their
hands on the ball. Miller finally gives them a
player defenses can't ignore. Since he was drafted
in the 2005 first round, Miller has been among
the position leaders with 18 touchdowns in three
seasons. And then his receiving yards jumped in
2007, and he ranked seventh among tight ends.
He also tied for 6th in red-zone targets at the position with 17.
The one concern here is the arrival of running
back Rashard Mendenhall who the team selected
in the first round. Mendenhall gives the Steelers
a powerful goal-line runner who could cut into
some of the team's short touchdown throws.
New offensive coordinator Bruce Arians says he likes to run a lot of three tight-end sets, but Miller is the unquestioned leader as a receiving threat. Pittsburgh has used the position primarily as an extension of the offensive line, but Miller has 73 catches and 11 touchdowns the past two seasons. Arians is putting in some spread looks, and Miller could be used as a slot receiver, as the wideout position is a little thin in Pittsburgh. He’s also useful around the goal line where he had four targets (tied for 6th at TE) last season.
A great route runner with excellent hands, Miller had a nice rookie season with 39 catches for 459 yards and six TDs. Expect Miller to build on those totals as his understanding of the NFL game develops in his second year. Miller’s not very fast, so don’t count on a lot of passes down the field, though. While Miller is blessed with a first rate signal-caller in Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers ran the ball a league-leading 59.2 percent of the time last season, a statistic that should be similar in 2006.
The Steelers haven’t had an impact tight end since the days of Eric Green in the early ’90s. Miller, selected in the first round, instantly becomes the leader in terms of fantasy value. At 6-5, 255, Miller will give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a big, quick target to use against blitzes. The team still moves primarily on the ground, but the playbook should be more open for Roethlisberger in his second season leading the offense.