It never ceases to amaze me how utterly clueless the national sports media actually are when it comes to the interior workings of the Steelers franchise.
The inspiration for this article smacked me squarely in the face as I was perusing social media this week searching for any current Steelers news. I will refrain from mentioning the publication, but the inspiring article suggested that a recent Steelers draft pick was in danger of losing their roster spot due to the Steelers impressive 2023 draft class.
Since I totally agree with any and all praise that is being heaped upon this Steelers draft class; potentially the best class I can remember, I was intrigued. I clicked on the article, and gave it a quick read. That was my first mistake.
I usually avoid clickbait titles from national publications, because they are seldom privy to accurate inside information. Their opinion pieces are usually reactionary in nature at best. The aforementioned article took that assumption to another level.
The recent draft pick that the article deemed in danger of losing their roster spot was none other than Connor Heyward. The author concluded that Heyward's roster spot was in serious danger because the Steelers drafted massive Georgia TE Darnell Washington in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
The author incorrectly assumed that Washington is a threat to Connor Heyward's roster spot, mainly because he inaccurately labels Connor as a tight end. Heyward is actually a versatile H-back. Heyward can give the Steelers effective minutes at multiple positions; tight end, full back, and special teams. He can easily be moved around multiple formations; in the backfield, in motion, and out of the slot.
Just in case any of our knowledgeable members are still confused, as apparently plenty of national sports media members actually are, let me unequivocally set the record straight. Connor Heyward has never been an actual NFL tight end. Heyward is terribly undersized for the tight end position, standing a shade over 5'11" and weighing in at 233 lbs. He has more of a dad bod than a chiseled NFL physique, but he is living proof that looks can be deceiving.
Heyward began his collegiate career at Michigan State as a running back, and believe it or not, a kick returner. He eventually moved to H-back for a couple of logical reasons; the Spartans had more talented options at running back, and Heyward was valuable and versatile enough to keep on the field. Actually he was too valuable to take off the field.
Connor Heyward is potentially an incredibly versatile weapon for the Steelers, especially considering the serious upgrades that the Steelers have made on offense, both in overall talent and depth.
The 2023 Steelers offense should be able to impose their will on opposing defenses. They possess the personnel packages necessary to dictate coverages, and create mismatches. The Steelers have size, strength, and speed at the skill positions; operating behind a seriously upgraded offensive line. Heyward is a game piece that can be moved all over the board.
I believe that Connor Heyward's presence is the biggest reason that the Steelers have shown no interest in bringing back Derek Watt, their primary fullback and special teams captain last season, even at a reduced price.
There are still three or four top notch full backs rumbling around the league, but modern NFL offenses utilize the position more and more sparingly. Many teams get creative playing situational football, utilizing various position players when a fullback is needed.
Who doesn't love it when a 300+ round belly lines up in the backfield on short yardage or goal line situations? I know I sure do. Just once I want to see Nasty Nate Herbig crush an overmatched defender after gaining a full head of steam.
Connor Heyward is actually a great fit for Matt Canada's offense. Canada has enjoyed substantial success in his previous collegiate stops by creatively utilizing his H-backs. There are times when all Steelers fans wonder in unison if Canada has the slightest clue on how to scheme a wide receiver open, but he is actually accomplished at effectively utilizing a versatile H-back. Just trying to give credit where credit is due.
Connor Heyward is actually in an optimal position with the Steelers, regardless what the aforementioned article suggested. He appears ready, willing, and able to assume Derek Watt's infrequent offensive responsibilities.
Heyward's blocking actually improved throughout his rookie season, and I fully expect him to be physically stronger after a full offseason of NFL conditioning. Heyward was already a superior runner and receiver to Derek Watt, which makes him a potential weapon on offense, an area where Derek Watt was little more than a afterthought.
Connor Heyward is also an underrated special teams performer, an area where the Heyward family's hard-headed determination is easily identifiable. Like his older and more accomplished brother, Connor is an old-school baller.
The Steelers have invited some undrafted competition for the position to rookie camp, but I think Connor Heyward is securely in the Steelers plans heading into training camp.
Put it this way, if Connor Heyward fails to make the final 53, it won't be because Darnell Washington knocked him off the roster.