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Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Tight Ends


By Alex Kozora

A Pittsburgh Steelers player by player recap, grouped by position, reviewing the 2013 season. This round, a look at the tight end position.

Heath Miller: There are two schools of thought when it comes to evaluating Miller.

1. It was unreasonable for him to look the same only a little over eight months removed from tearing his ACL.

2. Heath Miller is 31 years old and will never fully be the same player he once was.

It was likely a combination of the two. But the fact is it will be a battle just to plateau, not decline for the rest of his career.

Miller was certainly never a vertical threat but set a career low in yards per catch at 10.2. He found the end zone just once, coming on a shovel pass vs the Baltimore Ravens.

His longest gains of the year tended to come on playaction where he didn’t truly gain separation himself. A 31 yarder against the Miami Dolphins stemmed from playaction on 4th down with the defense biting hard, leaving Heath wide open for an easy catch.

Oddly, with the return of glorified lineman Matt Spaeth to take on some of the blocking duties, Miller’s targets sank. He averaged just 3.5 looks per game following Spaeth’s return off the injured reserve to return list. Granted, that can be partially explained by the team passing less.

He’s still sure-handed but is really going to struggle to get open as a receiver. There just isn’t any separation in his game.

Having him return as a blocker was clearly a welcomed addition after seeing David Paulson bumble his way to a seat on the bench. Yet, it wasn’t as impressive as it had been and he fell off blocks more often than he has before. Example versus the Cleveland Browns where he couldn’t stick to D’Qwell Jackson, preventing Le’Veon Bell from picking up a first down on third down.

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And against the Chicago Bears, albeit his first week back, a false step that allows Lance Briggs to knife through and make the tackle.

He still had his moments and on the whole, is an above average run blocker and an asset in that department.

Combing through my game notes, Miller just didn’t stick out. Part of that is his nature; he has never been the flashy player that jumps out on film.

He’s a workhorse, the junkyard dog that does the dirty work coaches love. That’s why he’s beloved in Pittsburgh. There were no “Waaaallce” chants. Only “Heeeath” chants for the best tight end in franchise history.

But the quality of the tape just isn’t as good as it once was.

This all sounds blasphemous. Feel like I have to go to Confession for writing this. But we’re not too far away from Miller being a glorified blocker with limited skill as a receiver.

It’s quite possible this is Miller’s final year in Pittsburgh. He’s a free agent after 2014. Heck, if there was a more viable #2 option on the roster, Miller could have been discussed as a cap casualty this offseason. It’d save four million to cut the tight end.

That won’t happen because there is no other talent on the roster. I’d love for the team to bring in a big, athletic tight end in this year’s draft similar to Cleveland’s Jordan Cameron or San Diego’s Ladarius Green. It’s a threat the team lacks.

If the team wants to use more 12 personnel going forward, as they showed once Spaeth returned, you can have one strong blocker and one receiving threat. Spaeth can be kept and mixed and match with the athletic tight end.

The athletic tight end can be flexed out into the slot with Miller serving as an in-line blocker. The possibilities are endless. Give yourself formation flexibility.

Matt Spaeth: Spaeth served as a sixth lineman once he returned from a foot injury in Week 14. He was a serviceable blocker, taking advantage of his 6’7 frame. But he was nothing special in that department, either not sticking to his block like on this goalline block against Nick Perry, who sheds and fills the lane.

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Or the team trusting him too much, like being asked to base block Carlos Dunlap and the end shedding with ease.

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It wasn’t all bad. From the same game against the Cincinnati Bengals, he perfected a combination block to spring Bell into the end zone.

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It comes to no shock as Steelers’ fans that Spaeth is a lumbering and little used receiver. He secured just one catch, an 11 yard touchdown against the Green Bay Packers.

Spaeth’s cap hit will be just a tick over 1 million next year. It’s almost certain he will be back and likely he break camp with the team in 2014 because of his run blocking.

David Paulson: David Paulson started the season, proving Schrodinger’s cat to be true. You can have a starting tight end and not have a starting tight end at the same time.

But start he did the first two weeks. That’s where the majority of his playing time on offense came from, logging 55% of his offensive snaps over that span. Heath Miller returned and the team switched to a lot of 11 personnel or tackle eligible personnel.

The Titans game went without much of a hitch. But the Bengals game was brutal for Paulson, who fumbled after a 34 yard reception.

Then came his blocking attempt against safety Reggie Nelson.

A picture is worth 1000 words but I’ll add another. Terrible.

His contributions came on special teams, wearing hats on the kick return, punt coverage and return, and field goal units throughout the entire season.

The former 7th round pick still has two years remaining on his rookie deal but it would come as no surprise for him to be cut in training camp.

Michael Palmer:

Late in the year, he surpassed Paulson on the depth chart, being used in some goalline packages. Palmer is set to become a free agent and though he could re-up on a one year deal to be the #3 TE, his abilities are a dime a dozen.

David Johnson: The former 7th round selection hurt his wrist in Week 6, landing on injured reserve. It marked the second straight season he was placed on IR after tearing his ACL the year prior.

I’ll admit Johnson has been one of my favorites as a solid run blocker. But that isn’t an asset that will separate you from others and the injuries are mounting. He is also set to hit the open market in March. Odds are better Palmer gets resigned than Johnson.

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  • steeltown

    I would be pretty damn happy if they drafted Ebron or Amaro, that’s not to say I wouldn’t be happy if we went another direction, but neither Miller nor Spaeth are spring chickens and neither is under contract past 2014

  • treeher

    We’ll have a TE somewhere in this draft.

  • DrakePirate

    You hit it spot on with Heath .. that is why we need another TE soon. I am onboard with your philosophy of a Big Atheltic TE flexed out … just the way the NFL is going nowadays for the last several years. Hopefully next year he will be a little more improved from his injury … although surely on the decline I think he has 3 solid years left if he works hard on the offseason and stays healthy

    With regards to DJ .. i really liked his catching ability improvement last year, i know it was only a few reps but i really saw something. Hope he stays healthy and is brought in to compete for the 3rd TE .. like him over Palmer/Spaeth

  • DrakePirate

    Me too !

  • DrakePirate

    just hopefully not another paulson

  • steeltown

    Spaeth > D.Johnson

  • DrakePirate

    i take it u like Spaeth’s blocking more ? I really think DJ is a good receiving option and an upgrade over Spaeth in that department .. i would be fine with Spaeth as the 3rd TE if we pick up another TE receiving option in the draft.

  • steeltown

    Blocking and receiving… don’t get me wrong DJ is a decent in-line blocker and he can play fullback, if we didn’t have Spaeth and DJ could stay healthy he would easily be the #2 but he isn’t really all that productive as a receiver I think he maybe has one career TD

  • ATL96STEELER

    Simply put…the TE position has evolved from a possession type guy to a down field threat and obviously a RZ threat…the Steelers have the possession guy in Miller (expensive albeit), but seriously lacking a big athletic RZ target that can attack the deep middle or the seam….this draft has 3 guys that fill that void…we shall see what Colbert/Tomlin do here.

  • DrakePirate

    his injuries are a concern .. but he is still young and so much time invested … would like to stay the course with him !

  • Callentown

    One thing it seems we all agree on is that the team needs some new blood here. From the piece that Alex writes above, it doesn’t sound like we have the strong blocking TE we need either. And no real receiving threat anymore.

  • DrakePirate

    Very well said … !

  • Aric Brown

    I thought Heath looked better and better as the year progressed. I’d prefer a later round tight end with a well rounded skill set like Miller. Heath really wasn’t great at anything… he was just good at everything

  • Aric Brown

    I also like johnson better as a receiver not to mention he is a decent fullback

  • steeltown

    I think Miller will be productive for a few more yrs, but Spaeth is only signed through 2014 and we obviously don’t have much behind them

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I tend to rank the TEs a little different than many. I don’t really like Amaro…that is mostly due to me not seeing his tape about his blocking. Can he block?

    I like Ebron a lot, but I also like Seferian-Jenkins as well, in fact better than Amaro. That being said, I’m not sure he has a ton of speed and he could potentially slip to the 2nd round after the combine.

    To me, more than any thing else on the offensive side of the ball, I want to add physicality so we can impose our will on opposing defenses. On the defensive side of the ball, I want to add athletes with speed.

  • David Edward

    I would’ve liked the TE group a lot more had they drafted Tyler Eifert last year. I think he’s a better fit for the Steelers than anyone coming out this year. Sure, Ebron is a possibility with the top pick (and I have him in my consideration set), but if they are thinking more along the lines of a future replacement for Heath, I like CJ Fiedorowicz. He has more desirable size along the lines of Gronk or Graham and is faster than Heath was. Of course they’d probably have to invest a 2nd rounder on him which may be too high if a better player is available.

  • Aric Brown

    I’d like to grab Sefarian-Jenkins who is pretty well the consensus #3 ranked TE in this years draft although he is both bigger AND faster than both Amaro and Ebron… or maybe even Troy Niklas at 6’7

  • Aric Brown

    CJ’s stock is going to rise a bit once he runs that 40 and people realize how fast he is.. we could also potentially get Seferian-Jenkins in the 2nd or Troy Niklas in the 3rd

  • steeltown

    I would not be upset to see the Steelers draft Jenkins, some think long term he will be the best, once he improves his blocking skills

  • Jay Jaber

    David Johnson is a better receiver than spaeth! I also think Paulson is a better receiver than spaeth! I really like Paulson as a receiver of course his block is atrocious. Idk if you guys saw what I saw but Paulson made a lot of good catches this year

  • DrakePirate

    paulson has no future as a steeler and is done.

  • Jay Jaber

    I don’t think any TE is worth a first pick! Accept of course the one and only tony Gonzales

  • ATL96STEELER

    Amaro…my nephew goes to TT, so I watched their games a little more the last couple of years because of that…I kinda felt the same way about him, but now I’m not overly concerned about him as a blocker…TT used him more like a WR, he can play tight, spreadout, has very good speed (Eifert like speed) …I would take any of the top 3 TEs in this draft.

  • Robert Alaniz

    The discussion about the TE is interesting however, with our other needs I think moot for 2014′s draft.

    Heath will play better than last year as he will be futrher removed from the surgery and he takes great care of himself during the off season. He will perform at least in 2014. Matt Spaeth is a nice blocking TE who can catch the ball in the red zone if you throw it to him. Look at his few career catches and look at the touchdown ratio to catch. He’s 6’7″ In the double TE set in the redzone, throw him the damn ball. lol

    Palmer is not bad for a third TE. Paulson has more potential on offense however, if he does not seriously improve his blocking and all around game, he will probably be gone.

    That being said again, unless we see a must have TE with Potential in the later rounds, I would skip that this year.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Different era my friend.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Steelers have a lot of needs…TE in a traditional sense I agree…not as big as some others, but Miller is 31 coming off a bad leg injury…Spaeth is a glorified OL, and no one else worth mentioning imo.

    If the DEF stud DT/DE I want is gone @ 15…I’m looking OFC and will go WR, and or TE because the OFC is one big target away from being complete…the top CBs are good, but imo not much better than Fuller or Purifoy who should be available in the 2nd round. I’m not taking the S Dix with 15. ILB…not now that Williams has emerged as a legit player with a yr under his belt.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    That doesn’t make me feel any better. HERE, no matter how they used him at TT, he will be required to be a good blocker. Paulson couldn’t block and quickly found himself on the bench. Yes, he is a better receiver than that, but I for one think he isn’t a fit here despite his great catching abilities.

  • CW

    If Colt Lyerla drops in the draft to the later rounds (5 to 7) I hope the Steelers draft him with a compensatory pick if he agrees to a serious rehab program as a condition of being drafted. The kid has incredible talent, but no sense.

  • David Edward

    I was eyeing up Pedersen as a possible replacement for Paulson as the #3 TE. He’s actually similar size/speed to Ebron, and could be a nice late round pickup…especially if they don’t grab a big WR.

  • DrakePirate

    way different era

  • DrakePirate

    Missing Heath the first few weeks was probably the number one reason we didnt make the playoffs, so sorry if I think we need a TE asap !

  • Patrick Reid

    Spot on sir!! Takes care of the big target need. I wanted Eifert last year.

  • Robert Alaniz

    No apologies necessary. We missed having Spaeth in their also. He would have made a difference in the first part of the season when our line was in shambles.

  • Patrick Reid

    Lyerla has long been my favorite. He reminds me alot of Gronk. That said, his problems have been well documented. As you said if we could steal him late that would be the only way. He is a difference maker. And oddly enough another Oregon TE, lol. Adding a big play TE and a speedy do it all blur like DAT or Archer would really make us a problem on O.

  • Dutchess Hershberger

    LOVE EBRON PAIRED WITH HEATH, OR TRADE DOWN AND DRAFT JENKINS OR AMARO, WOULD DEFINITLY HELP THE OFFENSE BECOME SPECIAL, ALTHOUGH IF SAMMY WATKINS SOMEHOW SLIPS I WOULD HOPE THE STEELERS WOULD RUN THE CARD UP,
    BENJAMIN WILL BE A BUST AND MIKE EVANS IS JUST TOO SLOW

  • ATL96STEELER

    Duly noted.

  • Virdin Barzey

    I know people don’t agree but I really think we should be taking the best TE in the draft at the15th spot if we don’t have a chance to get the the best DB.

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