Steelers have draft's greatest luxury -- offensive weapons galore

INDIANAPOLIS -- With Heath Miller's retirement, the Pittsburgh Steelers want to add at least two tight ends before training camp.

But this is hardly a team in a panic to replace tight end production in the passing game.

Though Miller's leadership on and off the field will be missed, the Steelers' offense designs most of its passing attack around wide receivers and also greatly values throwing to running backs, as evidenced by Le'Veon Bell's 83-catch season during his healthy 2014 campaign.

Miller was third on the team in targets with 81, but the receiving trio of Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant combined for 366 targets.

"We have all of our weapons available to us," general manager Kevin Colbert said. "Now, Heath was the exception because he was Heath Miller and he was a big part of that. Without a Heath Miller, you still have Antonio Brown, you still have Le’Veon Bell, Markus Wheaton, and Martavis Bryant. So, that tight end, I don’t know how big of a part they will be. It depends on their abilities and their ability to contribute within our group. They might contribute more on another team than they would with us, because we have some other weapons available."

Here's a breakdown of how the Steelers distributed the ball in 2015, compared to a tight-end-heavy offense, the Patriots.


Pass targets for WRs/RBs: 491

Pass targets for TEs: 99 (81 to Heath Miller)

Total: 590


Pass targets for WRs/RBs: 461

Pass targets for TEs: 168

Total: 629

That's roughly 17 percent of the Steelers' passing offense designed for the tight end position, while Rob Gronkowski (120) alone comprises 19 percent of Tom Brady's targets.

Pass-catching depth is a good thing since tight end is "never a deep position group" in the draft, Colbert said.

"Just because of the expansion of the spread offense," Colbert said.

The tight end free agent market is not bad, but as Colbert points out, most teams don't let the good tight ends get away.

For the Steelers, don't expect them to search for a tight end who can catch 70 passes right away. In 2016, expect more Brown, as always, but also more Wheaton over the middle. The Steelers didn't design a lot of plays for him, and with Wheaton entering a contract year, he'll be motivated to do something with the bigger workload.

And, of course, expect second-year tight end Jesse James to increase his 11 targets from a year ago.