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Position flexibility, not bloodlines, was the driving force behind the Connor Heyward pick

The Pittsburgh Steelers took Connor Heyward in the 6th round, and the answer to “why” isn’t just because he is Cam’s younger brother.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Michigan State Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

During the 2022 NFL Draft you could hear the imaginary eye-roll from Pittsburgh Steelers fans when their 6th Round pick was made.

“The Pittsburgh Steelers select...Connor Heyward, tight end, Michigan State.”

Fans likely went straight to their preferred social media platforms to bemoan another set of brothers on the Steelers’ current roster. In case you didn’t know Connor Heyward joining his big brother Cam now makes four sets of brothers on the team.

Terrell and Trey Edmunds
Carlos and Khalil Davis
T.J. and Derek Watt
Cam and Connor Heyward

Speculation of why the pick was made began to run rampant. Some thought the Steelers valued bloodlines over talent, considering many draft “experts” had better players available in the 6th round. However, when the Steelers sent their coaches to the podium after a pick was made, you quickly realize the Heyward pick wasn’t because of bloodlines, but talent.

“Very talented guy.” Tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts said after the selection was made. “I know he’s done somethings, positional flexibility things, and when I saw him as a tight end, I had an opportunity to look at him as a tight end and he offered some value.

“I knew he could be an outstanding [special] teams player, but right now we get a chance to focus on him being a tight end and fitting in with the rest of the guys.”

What Roberts said about special teams is 100% correct. Heyward’s fastest path to the field is by showing he can play special teams. This isn’t new to any rookie, but in his case his value in Year 1 will likely be on Danny Smith’s units. But let’s not believe he would make the roster and not have some type of role on the offense as well.

Roberts believes he is more than capable of playing the tight end position at the NFL level.

“For me, I saw him play in-line, I saw him make plays down the field as a tight end, catching the ball and running after the catch, I saw him catch screens, and he showed value as a runner. He showed value as a ball-catcher.

“People talk about his limited playing in-line. He has that want-to and the savviness to do some other things that are really attractive and getting him on our football team and the things that we’re trying to do with moving, he gives you that added dimension.”

Speaking of an added dimension, after the draft Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert talked about each pick at length. When Colbert got to Heyward, he spoke about his ability to not just be a pass catcher, but also as an ‘h-back’.

“Connor Heyward, obviously people understand who he is.” Kevin Colbert said. “First and foremost, that’s not why we drafted him. Connor Heyward was a running back at Michigan State, and really, I give Coach Tucker and his staff credit for taking Connor and using him in a different manner as an H-back tight end/fullback.

“Connor has got exceptional ball skills, receiving abilities, for a big man. We’re excited to see what he can do as a tight end, as an H-back, as a special teamer. This guy one time against the University of Maryland put up I believe it was 140-some yards in a game, so he’s very, very talented. He’s very versatile.”

Some will call this nothing but blowing smoke. Touting a pick to make it seem like something many believe it isn’t. For instance, many still wonder what Heyward brings to the team which Derek Watt doesn’t? Roberts compared Heyward to Watt, and what separates the two.

“Similar, but he [Watt] played more of a true fullback, where Connor gives, in my opinion, a different flex and tight end responsibility and he just gives you that value.”

Ultimately, the reason for the pick was position flexibility, not the fact he is the latest set of brothers to don the black and gold. Heyward will not just play special teams, but can bring value as a tight end, fullback and even running back if needed. When people use one of Tomlin’s favorite Tomlinisms, being a Swiss Army Knife, Heyward fits that description.

In case you want a visual of why the Steelers would value Heyward’s do-it-all persona for an offense, Brian Baldinger broke it down on his verified Twitter page. Check it out below:

Mike Tomlin put it best when asked about Heyward in the post-draft press conference:

“Connor’s resume speaks for itself. He’s a Swiss Army knife. He’s very talented. He has a nice skill set. He’s a capable runner. He’s a capable blitz pickup guy. He’s very good in terms of the screen game, timing and feel. He made some plays down the field as a tight end in that offense. He’s a physical guy.

“We imagine that he could be an offensive contributor in teams, and so he was very worthy of that consideration, and I didn’t want to water that down in any way by including big brother.”

Enough said.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for minicamps and the rest of OTAs.