AFC North: Zach Miller

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger often calls teammate Heath Miller the best tight end in football. But according to ESPN.com's positional Power Rankings, Miller is not even in the top 12 at his position.

Miller came in at No. 13 in this week's ranking of the NFL's best tight ends. ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton and I were the only two voters who had Miller on their ballots. Clayton voted Miller ninth and I ranked Miller seventh.

This confirms what most of us in the AFC North blog already suspected: Miller remains one of the league's most underrated players. Injuries hurt his numbers in 2010 (42 receptions for 512 yards). But Miller was recently an AFC representative in the Pro Bowl two seasons ago with 76 receptions for 789 yards and six touchdowns.

Miller is not flashy and will never catch 100 passes per season playing in Pittsburgh's offense. But in my opinion, Miller is one of the NFL's most complete tight ends and worthy of being on this list.

Miller makes the most of his limited opportunities. He's sure-handed and great at running downhill after the catch. He's also a phenomenal run- and pass-blocker, and essentially serves as Pittsburgh's third offensive tackle.

The Steelers know how important Miller is to their offense. His contributions cannot be measured strictly by numbers because Miller adds much more with his toughness, blocking ability and being a safety valve over the middle for Roethlisberger.

Miller may not be tops at his position. But I would not select 12 tight ends for my team before taking Miller.

ESPN.com's Tight End Power Rankings

1. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys

2. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers

3. Dallas Clark, Indianapolis Colts

4. Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers

5. Chris Cooley, Washington Redskins

6. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons

7. Kellen Winslow Jr., Tampa Bay Buccaneers

8. Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars

9. Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions

10. Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers

Walker's Tight End Power Rankings

1. Jason Witten, Dallas

2. Antonio Gates, San Diego

3. Dallas Clark, Indianapolis

4. Kellen Winslow Jr., Tampa Bay

5. Vernon Davis, San Francisco

6. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta

7. Heath Miller, Pittsburgh

8. Chris Cooley, Washington

9. Zach Miller, Oakland Raiders

10. Dustin Keller, New York Jets
As the Pittsburgh Steelers continue to morph into a pass-first offense, one of the biggest beneficiaries this season has been starting tight end Heath Miller.

Miller
The five-year veteran has already set new career-highs for receptions (71) and yards (733) in a season. Pittsburgh (8-7) will finish its regular season Sunday against the Miami Dolphins (7-8).

Miller has also been one of the most dependable targets in the league, catching 71 of 91 passes (78 percent) thrown in his direction.

Here are the NFL's most-targeted tight ends heading into Week 17, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information:

Seven-step drop

November, 23, 2009
11/23/09
1:00
PM ET
Here are seven notes and observations from an awful Week 11 in the AFC North:

    Drew Hallowell/Getty ImagesThe Steelers should take a long look at free agent quarterback Jeff Garcia.


  • If I’m the Pittsburgh Steelers, the first free agent I’m calling this week is quarterback Jeff Garcia. With the status of Ben Roethlisberger (head) up in the air this week and backup Charlie Batch out for the rest of the regular season, the Steelers need a veteran replacement. Although chances are slim that someone can come in and start right away against the Baltimore Ravens, if anyone has a chance, it’s Garcia. It will be interesting to see how Pittsburgh handles this if Roethlisberger isn't healthy enough to return. Would the Steelers really go with Dennis Dixon in a crucial game?
  • If Pittsburgh isn’t convinced that drastic changes need to be made ASAP on special teams, I’m not sure they ever will be this season. Pittsburgh has allowed four kickoff returns for touchdowns and two in the past two weeks. These are huge blows in a game. Kansas City Chiefs tailback Jamaal Charles took the opening kickoff to the house in their overtime win over Pittsburgh Sunday, and that play gave Kansas City all the confidence it needed to hang in there and eventually pull off the upset. The Steelers have a wealth of talent, and it's time to take some of those backups and replace them with better players.
  • We are getting a lot of e-mails in our AFC North inbox from Cleveland Browns fans regarding the frantic finish in a loss to the Detroit Lions. But the referees got this one right. Cleveland defensive back Hank Poteat clearly committed pass interference on the Hail Mary. Yes, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford hurt his shoulder with no timeouts, but above all else a game cannot end on a penalty. Another huge mistake was Browns head coach Eric Mangini calling a timeout for an explanation, which allowed Stafford to return and throw the game-winning touchdown. Who knows if an ice cold Daunte Culpepper could have come in and successfully executed that play in the clutch?
  • Here is a question for the Cincinnati Bengals: Why is Andre Caldwell returning kickoffs? It's been clear all season that Caldwell is not very good in that role. He dances too much and doesn't hit the hole or run a straight line. Caldwell burned the Bengals again on a kick return with a late fumble that set up the Oakland Raiders' game-winning field goal Sunday. Rookie tailback Bernard Scott was coming into his own in that role following a big touchdown return against the Steelers, and Scott or someone else should have been the player returning the final kick. Caldwell is a solid receiver but it's time to give that kickoff return experiment a rest.
  • The Bengals also could not rush the passer against Oakland. Journeyman quarterback Bruce Gradkowski threw 31 times and Cincinnati had zero sacks. The Bengals also continued their season-long trend of not defending the tight ends. Oakland tight end Zach Miller led the Raiders with five catches for 65 yards. When you can't pressure the quarterback and constantly leave the middle of the field open that usually results in a loss.
  • The replay of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco’s final interception in a loss the Indianapolis Colts looks like he just decided to throw into triple coverage. But Flacco said he was fooled and never saw Indianapolis linebacker Gary Brackett drop on the backside. Brackett made a heady play by briefly engaging with an offensive lineman and then dropping into the spot where Ravens tailback Ray Rice was heading. According to Brackett, Baltimore ran the play earlier and he recognized the route. Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron also said afterwards that he was fooled by Bracket's decision not to rush the quarterback.
  • Let me finish by saying this was the worst weekend of football that I can recall in nearly two seasons covering the division. Three AFC North teams lost to awful opponents in sloppy fashion, and the one possible upset in the division was foiled by poor play in the red zone. I know it's just one Sunday, but group performances like this lead me to believe the AFC North is not as good as I once thought heading down the stretch of the regular season.

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