Years in Atlanta: 1980-1983
Stats: 114 receptions, 1,328 yards, 13 touchdowns, 11.6 yards per reception
Why Junior Miller shouldn’t be forgotten
Long before Alge Crumpler vacuumed up darts from Michael Vick, longer still before Tony Gonzalez plied his elite route running and hands in service of the Falcons’ offense, and even longer still before Austin Hooper put together a Pro Bowl season for Atlanta, there was Junior Miller. While his name popped up last year several times as Calvin Ridley chased and ultimately broke the rookie record for touchdown receptions, Miller’s contributions to the Falcons have largely faded into the moors of the past.
That’s a shame, because Miller put together one of the finest two-year stretches in team history. He was the seventh overall pick of the 1980 NFL Draft for the Falcons, who loved his athleticism, hands and blocking ability for an offense that needed all three.
It took no time at all for Miller for make a contribution. In 14 starts in his rookie season, he caught 46 passes for 584 yards and 9 touchdowns, that rookie record that stood for 38 years. For perspective’s sake, that put him fourth on the team in receptions, third in yardage, and first in touchdowns, an excellent showing not just for a rookie but also a tight end. He tied the legendary elder Kellen Winslow for touchdowns, placed eighth in yardage, and was fifth in receptions for the position that season. The future looked extremely bright for Miller, who also made the Pro Bowl.
While the touchdown total wasn’t as robust, 1981 was again quality. Miller had another robust year with 32 receptions, 398 yards, and three touchdowns, making his second straight Pro Bowl. Then the wheels came off a bit.
Next year, Miller played in just nine games owing to injury, putting up 20 receptions for 221 yards and one touchdown. He would play in 15 games in 1983 but started just six of them, finishing his fourth and final year in Atlanta with 16 receptions, 125 yards, and no touchdowns. He played for the Saints in 1984 and then was out of the league the year after, a disappointing end for a career that started with such enormous promise.
Despite his extremely short career, Miller still was one of the best tight ends in team history, clocking in behind only Jim Mitchell until the 2000s, when Crumpler, Gonzalez, and now Hooper arrived to push him down the franchise leaderboard. He’s still fifth all-time in team history in receptions for a tight end, fifth in yardage, and fourth in touchdowns, so he probably doesn’t deserve to be a forgotten Falcon.
As Hooper gears up to push his way up the franchise leaderboard, we’ll certainly hope he’ll become the rare tight end who can do what Miller (owing primarily to injuries) could not: Stick around for a long, long time.