Ben Roethlisberger has averaged 309 and 328 yards passing per game over the last two seasons, respectively, and there is no reason to believe he won’t put up similar numbers this upcoming campaign.
Yes, Heath Miller is no longer a Pittsburgh Steeler, and I as much as anyone understand his role in the offense, but is it really going to be a catastrophic loss? The answer simply put is no.
Heath Miller is indeed the greatest tight end in the organization’s history, but in terms of his overall greatness, he was never even a top-3 tight end during any season of his career. You could debate that opinion, but with names like Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Vernon Davis, Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, and a few others dominating the tight end landscape in the NFL over the last decade or so, Heath was just ol’ reliable third down Heath.
With Miller’s numbers taking their biggest drop off, while Roethilisberger’s numbers were going in the opposite direction, that says everything about the receiving corps which could possibly be the best to ever take a field in Pittsburgh.
I can already hear the folks who love to comment on my age and that I never saw the “Steel Curtain” Steelers. I’m not blatantly ignoring that Terry Bradshaw did get to enjoy two Hall of Fame receivers for nine of his thirteen years with the Steelers, but the variety of skill sets this current corps of pass catchers have is almost Madden-like.
Antonio Brown is on a crash course with becoming the greatest receiver in team history if he repeats his last two seasons for two or three more. He’ll put a stamp on that very distinction if he at some point helps deliver Super Bowl number seven to the Steel City. What he brings to this team was made clear when Brown was sidelined in the Divisional round match up against the Broncos. Dare I say that he’s just as important to this team’s success as Big Ben?
Then there is the beautiful but curious case of Martavis Bryant. The guy with all of the tools to be Randy Moss Volume Two, but goes missing for three week stretches where his quarterback speaks publicly about said receiver’s effort. Still, the hard to find mix of size, speed, and glimpses of pure brilliance make you excited to think about what he can be if he puts everything together. I’m one to believe he’s been shown that it is actually quite easy to find yourself out of the league quite quickly. I anticipate his past cannabis related transgressions and apathetic stretches will be exclusively a part of his past moving forward.
Marcus Wheaton is a guy I actually feel bad for. I honestly believe that if Wheaton was a Packer or a Patriot, he would probably get more opportunity and appreciation. He’s frequently played the role of the number two receiver and he’s proven his talents more than adequate. He’s had his own share of highlight catches along the sidelines on big drives, yet he’s never really talked about. The fact that he’s basically a number three receiver says a lot more about Brown and Bryant than Wheaton himself.
Here’s where the biggest wildcard exists…
Sammie Coates, who saw about as much playing time as Brandon Boykin seemed to get, had his biggest opportunity come in the absence of Brown in the aforementioned divisional playoff game. What we saw was another unique weapon with tons of potential, but many fundamental concerns tied to his game. Coates, who will be going into his second season, could see more opportunities attached with the departure of Miller. His size makes him valuable in slot situations, but one of the biggest concerns is his hands. If he expects to be a guy Roethlisberger will trust on third down, he can’t begin season two dropping balls in big situations.
The idea that this is the best past catching corps that the Pittsburgh Steelers have ever had is very possible. If all of the mentioned receivers play in the neighborhood of their potential, Ben could very well be an MVP next February. What is being lost in this are the resources that number 26 gives you as a pass catcher. Le’Veon Bell’s future with the Steelers is no guarantee, but with this group and the window that contracts create, next season could be the best opportunity Roethlisberger could have to win another Super Bowl with the time he has left.
And if he hoists that Lombardi Trophy, maybe then the all-time greatness of the pass catching group will be recognized.