When discussing the NFL’s elite tight ends, people will say Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez and Vernon Davis are the ones who make an enormous difference on their football teams.
But the one who is always overlooked in the conversation is Pittsburgh Steelers TE Heath Miller.
Usually, a tight end is just a good blocker or a good receiver. Miller—recognized as the top tight end prospect of the 2005 Draft and picked 30th overall by Pittsburgh—performs both at a high level.
The Steelers’ offensive line has struggled mightily in recent years. QB Ben Roethlisberger has been smashed harder than a fragile Mexican piñata the past four seasons (sacked 135 times since 2009, the same amount as Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler).
To remedy that, the Steelers use Miller primarily as an extra offensive lineman. He's busted holes for great running backs like Rashard Mendenhall, Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker throughout his career.
Miller wasn’t a good base-blocker coming out of college, though he has improved throughout the years. During the Steelers’ 24-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, Miller registered an amazing block that changed the game.
The 6’5”, 255-pound Virginia product lined up by LT Max Starks before the Steelers executed a run play to RB Chris Rainey in a 17-17 game in the fourth quarter. Miller noticed that Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict was blitzing on the inside where Rainey was to run.
Miller read the play perfectly and annihilated Burfict right-of-center, allowing Rainey to streak 11 yards untouched for the game-winning touchdown. That play needed perfect timing or Rainey would’ve been stuffed at the line of scrimmage.
Miller, also known as “Big Money,” can also haul in the big catch. No. 83 broke ACC tight end records for receptions (144), yards (1,703) and touchdowns (20). A hernia injury forced Big Money to sit out of the draft combine and slowed him down his rookie year.
Despite that injury, Miller has been Big Ben’s security blanket for the past eight seasons in red-zone situations, hauling in 37 scores and 4,200 yards when he isn’t even the featured weapon on offense.
The Steelers’ offense is sputtering a bit this year. WRs Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace have dropped some key passes and the running game has been on hold with Mendenhall battling a slew of injuries.
Pittsburgh has been respectable offensively thanks to Miller. Big Money has 336 yards, 6 TDs, a two-point conversion, and has helped the offensive line surrender just 13 sacks through seven contests.
That touchdown number is second in the NFL behind Gronkowski, James Jones, A.J. Green and Victor Cruz (all have seven). Not bad company to chill with.
New offensive coordinator Todd Haley is featuring Miller a bit more in red-zone situations this year, and who would blame him as Big Money keeps getting into pay dirt.
With a Pro Bowl selection in 2009, Miller is a strong candidate to gain another nomination—leading a 4-3 squad as they clash for a coveted playoff spot in the messy AFC race.
Bob Bajek is a freelance reporter interning at Pro Football Weekly. You could follow him at Twitter at @bobbajek.