66 catches for 714 yards.
Heath Miller was responsible for 83% of the receptions (58) and 88% (593) of the receiving yards that the Pittsburgh Steelers received from the tight end position last fall. Did I mention that the two-time Pro Bowl honoree missed the first two games of the regular season as well after he underwent reconstructive knee surgery during the previous offseason?
Just let those numbers sink in for a while, readers.
I understand why people are crowing about how much the Steelers need to find cornerbacks, nose tackles, wide receivers, etc. in the 2014 NFL Draft. I just hope those same people know how badly the team could use an upgrade at the tight end position in the very near future.
Consider the current contracts of the players Pittsburgh has on their four-deep depth chart at tight end.
Miller, who will turn 32 this fall, is entering the final season of his current deal. Although the veteran is still a legitimate receiving threat, he is entering his tenth season in the league and one must wonder whether or not the cap-strapped Steelers will have the financial wherewithal to extend their Pro Bowl performer beyond the 2014 campaign.
Miller’s top backup, Matt Spaeth, will also be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) in the spring of 2015 as well. Pittsburgh’s block-first, block-second and block-third tight end missed most of last season with a foot injury, and his long-term future with the team will also be a huge question mark.
Behind Miller and Spaeth, the depth is not necessarily set in stone or locked up long-term either. Michael Palmer will hit the free agent market this spring, and David Paulson (UFA in 2016) has underwhelmed in spot duty during his first two seasons in the league.
Not only do the Steelers need to find a legitimate exit strategy for the post-Miller era, their offense could sorely use the versatility and explosiveness which could be brought by the addition of another tight end. No offense to Spaeth, Paulson and Palmer, but those guys are not threatening any defense or creating any matchup issues from a personnel perspective (particularly in the passing game).
Adding a joker-type tight end who could line up in the slot or even outside the numbers in 12 personnel packages would give Pittsburgh’s offense an added dimension. Receivers like Antonio Brown and Jerricho Cotchery could be even more dangerous as underneath targets, as well as the always reliable Miller.
Moreover, running back Le’Veon Bell could feast on defensive alignments which feature nickel and dime personnel with only six or less men near the line of scrimmage. Although Bell might not be the quickest back, less-stacked boxes would allow the talented runner to get his large frame to the second level much easier and on a more consistent basis.
Make no mistake, the Pittsburgh Steelers will have plenty of holes to fill during the upcoming offseason. This is still a rebuilding team, and pressing needs exist on the offensive and defensive side of the ball at numerous positions.
While some needs in particular (nose tackle, wide receiver, cornerback, safety, etc.) have garnered most of the headlines and been the subject of many pre-draft discussions, the Steelers will have impending issues with personnel in the very near future at the tight end position unless steps are taken to solidify the depth.
So keep an eye on the tight ends in this draft class, Steeler Nation. One of them could very well be helping out on the offensive side of the ball for Pittsburgh as early as this fall.
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