In 2014, Darrius Heyward Bey lived out his own version of the show "Survivor".
With his career on life support, Heyward Bey signed a one-year deal with the Steelers last April after being let go by the Colts after just one season in Indianapolis. His opportunities in the NFL were running out, and surely, he knew it.
To make things harder, Heyward Bey would have to beat out second year receiver Justin Brown and fellow free agent acquisition Lance Moore from New Orleans for playing time. With Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and the emergence of rookie Martavis Bryant taking up the first three spots on the depth chart, Heyward Bey would have little margin for error if he wanted to find a place on the Steelers roster.
The Steelers re-signing of Heyward Bey Thursday tells you how he responded to the challenge last season. While you won't find his value on the stat sheet (he recorded just three catches for 33 yards last season), Heyward Bey was a solid special teams performer throughout the season. He didn't complain about his lack of involvement in the Steelers offense, and, based on his comments Thursday upon being re-signed by the Steelers, it seems that Heward Bey is thankful for every day he is an NFL player. At 28-years-old, he is the old head on a receiving unit that has two receivers under 25 years of age. Heyward Bey's unique experience in the NFL- going from a first round pick to a proclaimed "bust" to a reclamation project in Pittsburgh - could be used in a positive way to help mature and educate the younger Steelers wide outs.
My money last year was on Moore to beat out Brown and Heyward Bey for that fourth spot on the depth chart. I saw first-hand Moore's ability when he was a star at the University of Toledo, which prefaced his very productive career catching passes from Drew Brees in New Orleans. But Moore couldn't overcome several nagging injuries last year and his disdain for his reduced role, which led to his requested release this off-season. Brown, a 2013 draft pick by the Steelers, never panned out, leaving the job to the man many others had previously counted out.
From an ability standpoint, Heyward Bey's athletic prowess has never been questioned. His 4.3 speed is what prompted the late Raiders owner Al Davis to draft him in the first round. Always a deep threat, Heyward Bey's 6'2'', 210-pound frame should also make him an ideal slot receiver as he should be able to withstand (and even dish out) hits by opposing linebackers. He'll also need to show a willingness and ability to block for Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams on running plays.
The bottom line is that the Steelers need production from their slot receiver position, and Heyward Bey needs to provide a consistent threat from that spot whenever he is on the field. With another season with Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley under his belt, Heyward Bey should be in a much better position to thrive this season.
With Moore and Brown gone, it's Heyward Bey's time to show Kevin Colbert and the Steelers' brass that he can fill the receiving void that the Steelers never filled last year. Heyward Bey might have survived in 2014 but in 2015 he needs to thrive.