Don't Sleep on Heath Miller in Fantasy Football This Year

Coming off a fantastic 2012 season, Heath Miller played much of 2013 injured. Is he about to rebound in 2014?

There’s no doubt that Jerricho Cotchery’s 2013 season was an outlier. The veteran wideout hauled in 10 touchdown grabs from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, totaling three more scores than his previous four seasons combined.

That doesn’t mean we should write his season off as a simple anomaly though. Will he repeat that performance? I’d bet my dog (sorry, Henry) that he doesn’t score 10 touchdowns in a single season ever again. But in Pittsburgh last year, everything fell in place. Everything was perfect for Jerricho Cotchery.

Outside of Cotchery, the Steelers offense a season ago featured two sub-6’0’’, 190-pound receivers in Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, and a tight end in Heath Miller, who was coming off an ACL tear that occurred at the tail-end of the 2012 season. Cotchery, who has about two inches and 15 pounds on both starting wideouts, became the top threat near the scoring area for Big Ben’s offense. And simple red zone numbers show us this:

Red Zone Receiving, 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers

Jerricho Cotchery221310
Antonio Brown23121
Heath Miller951
Le'Veon Bell1490
Emmanuel Sanders1695

Not only did Cotchery see nearly as many targets as top receiver Antonio Brown in the red zone last year, but he converted 10 of his catches into touchdowns. Yes, that’s correct – all 10 of Jerricho Cotchery’s scores came in the red zone last year.

Cotchery, who played mostly out of the slot a season ago, is no longer a Steeler. In his place comes tiny Lance Moore, who’s four inches shorter and weighs just 177 pounds. Moore has one season with double-digit touchdowns, but he also consistently benefited from playing with one of the most prolific passers of this era, Drew Brees. He’s also going to be 31 at the end of August. Let’s not pretend he’s going to steal Cotchery’s red zone numbers.

Emmanuel Sanders, who scored five times in the red zone last year, will be replaced by second-year receiver Markus Wheaton. Though there’s a chance Wheaton becomes something big for the Steelers offense, his size dictates another Emmanuel Sanders type - scoring five or six touchdowns close to the end zone is possible, but going north of that isn’t probable.

Antonio Brown, again, isn’t a big receiver, and only became a true touchdown scorer a year ago. Most of his scores, as you can see from the chart above, came from longer distances, too. His conversion rate in the red zone is nothing – at all – to get excited about.

By process of elimination, that leaves us with Heath Miller. If you recall, Miller exploded in 2012, the first year coordinator Todd Haley was running the team’s offensive. That season, Miller caught 71 passes for 816 yards and 8 touchdowns. In terms of Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) – which measures the number of expected points added by a player on catches only – Miller’s 81.43 score ranked fourth among all tight ends in the league. Let’s not forget that, in 2012, Heath Miller was sort of a stud.

Miller’s 2013 campaign wasn’t normal. The eye test certainly could see a slower, hurting tight end, and the numbers reflect this as well. In terms of Reception NEP per target, Miller’s 0.46 average was by far the lowest he’s ever seen in his career, and far from his 0.81 average from 2012. In one year, he went from being one of the most efficient tight ends in football to one of the least. If you ignore the fact that he entered the season coming off of knee surgery, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

But what’s even more telling about Miller’s 2014 potential is the red zone numbers the Steelers saw with a healthy Heath back in 2012.

Red Zone Receiving, 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers

Heath Miller20127
Mike Wallace17103
Antonio Brown964
Emmanuel Sanders531
Jerricho Cotchery420

Two seasons ago, with admittedly a much different set of receivers, Heath Miller led the entire Steelers team in red zone targets, scoring seven times when close to the end zone. He saw 1.25 red zone targets per game in 2012, but in 2013, that was nearly cut in half. Is this just due to some random resurgence from Jerricho Cotchery, a 31-year-old receiver with just one 1,000-yard season under his belt?

That’s a rhetorical question.

The fact is, Heath Miller is far and away the best red zone threat the Steelers have entering 2014. He has about six inches and 60 pounds on any other relevant receiver on the team, has shown to be reliable near the end zone throughout his career, and has always been a security blanket for Ben Roethlisberger.

In 2014, Heath Miller has an opportunity to be the tight end machine he was in 2012. And his early average draft position shows that he’s the 17th tight end being selected. Why would you not take a chance?