By Cian Fahey
ESPN AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley recently ranked Heath Miller as the third best tight end in the division. Hensley\'s argument was essentially based on production as a receiver. He, correctly, points out that Miller hasn\'t been an overwhelmingly good receiving tight end from a statistical perspective.
You think Miller cares? I doubt it.
While Miller won\'t care, I do. I can buy an argument that Jermaine Gresham is as good as, or even slightly better than Miler, but there is no chance that Ed Dickson is even near his level. Regardless of all that, Miller should prove statistic freaks like Hensley wrong this year.
The first thing you have to do with Miller is provide some context.
In the past two seasons, Miller has 93 receptions for just over 1,000 yards and four touchdowns. That is pretty average production for a tight end. There is good reason for that however. In the past two seasons, particularly last year, the Steelers\' wide receivers stepped up and the offense looked to them as more explosive threats.
Miller spent a lot more time blocking in the passing game, at times even lining up in the backfield, opposed to running routes for Ben Roethlisberger. That should not happen too often this year for a number of reasons.
Obviously with their off-season investment in the offensive line, there will be less reason to ask Miller to stay in as a blocker in passing situations. If, as one would presume, Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert are the team\'s starting tackles, the Steelers won\'t need Miller to line up in the backfield.
Gilbert and Adams will need help, but that help should come from Miller, or a running back, chipping rushers at the line of scrimmage. With Willie Colon inside also, Miller shouldn\'t have to protect the A or B gaps even without Mewelde Moore\'s presence in pass protection.
With Miller free more from pass protection responsibilities, his role as a receiver should increase.
Hines Ward\'s involvement in the offense may have diminished before he retired this off-season, but he remained Roethlisberger\'s most trusted target until his very last snap. Miller will take up that mantle now. He has proven in the past that he can be a possession receiver and has made plenty of clutch third down receptions over the years.
Miller is Roethlisberger\'s longest serving teammate on the offensive side of the football, unless you consider Trai Essex who hasn\'t always been under contract. While Jerricho Cotchery is a veteran with even more NFL seasons on his resume, Cotchery hasn\'t got the same experience with Roethlisberger.
For all the talent that Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace have, none of them will inspire confidence in Roethlisberger as much as Miller will in tense situations. Ward\'s receptions, not just his clutch receptions, will need to be spread out.
Miller should get a lot of those receptions, so maybe Hensley will actually talk some sense next year, even if he does so unknowingly.
You can follow Cian on Twitter at @Cianaf