Underrated Steelers Players: Part Two

When the conversation comes up about some of the most top-rated tight ends in NFL history, the names Tony Gonzalez, Kellen Winslow, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates, and Shannon Sharpe come up. But one tight end that hasn’t gotten the attention he deserves is two-time Super Bowl champion (XL, XLIII) and two-time Pro Bowler (2009, 2012), Heath Miller.

One of the most memorable things about watching Heath Miller play was when he would run out of the tunnel or even just get ahold of the ball and you could hear all of Steeler Nation in the stadium erupt in sync with “HEEATH” chants whether you were present in the stadium or watching the game on TV. Heath Miller was the epitome of what you think of when you think of a Pittsburgh Steeler.

Heath had quite the career with the Steelers but is arguably the most underrated tight end, in my opinion. Drafted in the first round (30th overall) of the 2005 NFL Draft, Heath was just the third tight end that was drafted by the Steelers in the first round in 15 years. He quickly turned into one of the most reliable players on the field that Ben Roethlisberger knew he could turn to.

“It’s such a comfort to know that I can miss when I throw it to him and the worst that will happen is an incompletion. Heath doesn’t make mistakes. As a quarterback, when you’re back there and things are panicking and you don’t know what’s going to happen, I know my guy is going to be right there and he’s going to make something happen,” Roethlisberger said.

Roethlisberger never took playing with Heath for granted and their past together shows that from being introduced in his rookie season to bringing home a pair of Lombardi trophies back to Pittsburgh together. Heath finished his rookie season with 39 receptions for 459 yards and 6 total touchdowns. His performance during the year gained him the title of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie of the year.

Shortly after his rookie season, in 2007 Heath set new career highs. He had 7 touchdowns with 47 receptions for 566 receiving yards while he played in all 16 games. In 2010, Miller started the regular season as the Steelers’ captain for the offense. This came as no surprise as Heath was seen as an all-around leader on the team.

In 2012, Heath had his second Pro Bowl nomination after finishing his season with 71 receptions for 816 yards and 8 touchdowns. By 2012, this was his career high for receiving yards and touchdowns in a season. Todd Haley, the former offensive coordinator, was using him as a blocker in the short passing game which was allowing the wide receivers to make plays. Heath didn’t get enough recognition for opening the ground for his wide receivers, just another one of his unique talents. Heath was then voted MVP by his teammates after the season.

In 2013, Heath Miller suffered a torn MCL and ACL and went through reconstructive surgery and had hopes of returning before the regular season started. Heath wanted nothing more to get back on the field with his team.

“The ultimate goal, the most important goal is to be 100% and to get this thing better no matter how long it takes. I think that’s the overriding goal and I expect to be there,” said Heath after day two of OTAs following his injury.

When Heath was healthy again he came back and proved himself to the team like always. In his 11 seasons, Heath Miller reached 500 receiving yards nine different times and got over 40 receptions nine different times which proved to the Steelers why he was a major target for big plays. Miller is just one of 12 tight ends in NFL history to reach 6,000 career receiving yards.

Heath Miller definitely made Steelers history as well. The only other player in Steelers franchise history that has caught more passes than Heath was Hines Ward. This accomplishment also has to do with his character and the way he held himself as a Pittsburgh Steeler.

“All receivers say they are open every play. Heath never says he’s open. I have to back and watch film. I’ll be like, ‘Heath, you were open.’ He’ll say, ‘Yeah, but I didn’t want you to think about it.’ That’s why I say he’s the most selfless guy and teammate I’ve ever had. I feel so lucky to have him,” Roethlisberger said.

Heath Miller never thought of himself as ‘the best’ and never expected to receive the ball from Big Ben. He always let Ben make the best decision for the team in the situation the game put them in. Heath was also extremely versatile, in 2015, Miller was named an emergency backup quarterback after Landry Jones suffered an ankle injury.

Heath’s consistently positive attitude on and off the field always proved to be an advantage for the team. Miller has always shown to be grateful to be apart of the Steelers franchise after saying, “as a kid you dream about playing in the NFL, win the Super Bowl, and the first year I did that.” His selflessness proved how thankful he was to be on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

When coach Tomlin addressed Heath’s retirement in 2016, he addressed just how important he was to the team, “It’s been an honor and a pleasure to coach him. To watch him throwing the ball and perform, to grow in every way, to watch his sons get old enough and come to work with him. He’s not low maintenance, he’s been no maintenance, he has always put the Pittsburgh Steelers first in every aspect of his professional life. I don’t know that I can describe that, I don’t know that there has been a guy that I have been around like him from an unselfishness standpoint.

When addressing his impact he had on Steeler Nation, well, that was obvious, “He comes out so fast, immediately after the guy in front of him. The crowd screaming Heath, he’s just so excited to hear that. You don’t replace Heath Miller, you just do the best to move on,” Tomlin said.

“It was truly an honor for me to take the field with them. I am also appreciative of my entire family and all of the coaches who helped me along the way. Additionally, I want to thank Steelers Nation, the best fans in the NFL!” Heath Miller said after addressing his retirement.

And that was just the short version. I can say without a doubt, Heath Miller had a bigger impact on the Steelers game than what he is given credit for. Steeler Nation thanks you again, Heath!

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