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Zach Miller has fantasy TE1 potential in Chicago

Chicago Bears tight end Zach Miller (86) runs with a completion against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

The Chicago Bears have re-signed 30-year-old tight end Zach Miller to a two-year, $5.5 million contract.

Miller was drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, but had made little noise prior to last season, struggling to stay healthy for almost the entirety of his career. Due to injuries, he had played in just four games between 2011 and 2014. If you’re asking why the Bears might pay so much for an oft-injured backup to Martellus Bennett, you likely haven’t heard the rumors floating around Chicago.

Per Adam Schefter in a tweet earlier this week, the Bears are actively shopping Bennett. According to another report from earlier this month, if Bennett is not traded, he is likely to be released. These reports are hardly surprising following Bennett’s tumultuous first year under John Fox, and in light of Miller’s new contract and impressive play over the final half of the 2015 season.

From a fantasy perspective, this is big. If Bennett were to stay in Chicago, Miller’s fantasy upside would be significantly capped. If he were to leave Chicago, Miller has serious low-end TE1 upside. Given the amount of evidence pointing to a Bennett trade or release, I’d be much more interested in buying low on Miller than I would be in selling.

Beyond just the opportunity of being the starting tight end on an offense that ranked fourth in the league in passing yards last season, Miller's TE1 upside also comes from the fact that he already reached that upside when he was thrust into a starting role last year. I'm actually having trouble deciding whether to label Miller as a breakout candidate or not. Technically, the breakout already happened, but no one seems to realize just how good he was.

Miller excelled last season in limited time splitting snaps with Bennett, and in the five games Bennett missed with a rib injury. Miller saw 42 targets last season, catching 34 for 439 yards, and five touchdowns. Bennett saw 76 targets, catching 53 for 439 yards, and three touchdowns. Miller saw 34 fewer targets than Bennett, and yet, had the same amount of receiving yards and caught two more touchdowns. Bennett also dropped four passes, while Miller dropped none.

Miller ended the season ranking second among tight ends in fantasy points per route run and fourth among tight ends in fantasy points per catchable target. Over his final eight games, he led all tight ends in missed tackles forced (11), was fourth in yards after the catch (225), scored the fifth most fantasy points, and graded out No. 1 via the pass.

He excelled with every opportunity he was given, he seems to be the clear favorite to start for Chicago in Week 1, and no one else seems to care. Once Bennett is released or traded, Miller's price will likely go up, but it's hard to imagine it will jump so high he will no longer be a bargain. While his exhaustive injury history is somewhat worrisome, as is the fact that he’ll be losing his offensive coordinator Adam Gase, his potential far exceeds his current price (currently TE24). Miller is one of my favorite targets heading into 2016.

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