This preseason, Miller and JaMarcus Russell have written the first draft of their buddy movie script. Picking up where they left off in Week 17 (9 TGTs, 8 REC, 84 YDs), the Oakland aerial tandem connected four times for 48 yards and a touchdown in two quarters of exhibition play against Tennessee Friday (See highlights here).
Expect similar yields from Miller during the regular season.
The 6-foot-5, 255-pound second-year tight end is Wesley Walls reincarnated. His precise route-running, deceptive foot quickness, tender hands and uncanny ability to find and exploit soft spots in coverage are premiere tools. As Russell noted to the San Francisco Chronicle August 16:
"He has a knack for getting open. Once you pit in his vicinity, he's going to catch it."
With just one career start under his belt, Russell clearly is far from peak maturity. Because of that inexperience Miller will be more than an occasional safety valve this season, especially given his percolating chemistry with the second-year QB:
"I feel like he trusts me to make the right decision on the field, whether he's scrambling or throwing into tight coverage, I'm going to come down with it. Once you get the quarterback's trust, it keeps building and getting better and better."
In order for Miller to evolve into a dependable TE1, the Raiders absolutely must relieve him of blocking assignments on passing downs. Too often, he was shackled to the line in Oakland's run-first offense last season. Headset wearer Lane Kiffin regrets sheltering Miller, telling the Napa Valley Register August 1:
"If we had been a different team last year with the ability to pass protect better I think he would have had 60, 65 catches. But we kept him in so many times in pass protection to help protect with our tackles that he wasn't able to get out as much as we'd like him to. It's just unfortunate for Zach as far as numbers go because of that situation."
This year's tight end class is arguably the richest it's ever been. With that in mind, it could be difficult for Miller to leapfrog into the secondary or even tertiary tier. However, if last night's preseason effort is a preview of what's to come, his value will greatly exceed his current 199.3 Mock Draft Central ADP.
Currently owned in less than 35 percent of Y! leagues, Miller is someone with tremendous breakout potential. Snagging an unheralded 44 passes for 444 yards and three scores in his rookie campaign, he could stretch those numbers to 60-65 catches for 600-700 yards and 5-7 TDs this year. In other words, Oakland's brawny target could be just as valuable as Heath Miller, Benjamin Watson and Owen Daniels in deeper formats.
Image courtesy of US Presswire