The Pittsburgh Steelers signed wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey to a three year, $3.8 million dollar contract this offseason. While the former Oakland Raiders first round draft pick has a history of dropping easy passes, he has seemed to improve on this aspect of his game over the last few seasons in Pittsburgh.
Heyward-Bey filled in adequately when Martavis Bryant was suspended for the first four games of the season after he violated the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Today we will take a look at some plays where Heyward-Bey showed fans just why the organization signed him to a three-year contract extension.
Solid speed gets past defenders
Heyward-Bey's speed has been his most reliable asset throughout his career. While he is not the burner that Martavis Bryant is, he is still fast to get down the field and present a threat to defenses as a deep target.
Against the San Francisco 49ers in a week two matchup, Heyward-Bey exposed the middle of the field which was left open by the 49ers' cover 2 scheme for Ben Roethlisberger to exploit. While still not an excellent route runner, Heyward-Bey exhibits the ability to have a timely release off the line and get down the field fast enough to make defensive backs work to keep up. Steelers' offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, knows that while the Steelers' top receiving options will attract attention, Heyward-Bey can exploit being covered by players that are further down the opponent's depth chart, most likely not being their best athletes.
Great concentration with the football
In the past years, Heyward-Bey probably would have struggled securing this type of catch. While still not showing great hands on this play, his focus to finish the touchdown here is worthy of note. Heyward-Bey has gone from being a top prospect expected to blossom with natural ability to a grinder of a work horse deep in the depth chart of Pittsburgh's wide receivers.
In a week four matchup against the Baltimore Ravens, quarterback Mike Vick threw a perfect pass toward the back left corner of the endzone which was almost missed by Heyward-Bey. Despite not getting his hands on the ball initially, he sticks with the play and makes sure to get his feet down in-bounds to finish the play.
Reels in the toughest catches
Against the San Diego Chargers in a week five matchup, Heyward-Bey caught two passes for 24 yards. While that will not light up a stat sheet, both receptions were on the Steelers' final game winning drive.
On 3rd and 1 backup quarterback Mike Vick rolled out to his left and threw an absolute laser to Heyward-Bey that was almost too high to be caught. No. 88 did his job however and managed to high point the ball and record a crucial third down conversion.
While nobody should expect Heyward-Bey to become a consistent second option for Roethlisberger in the absence of Martavis Bryant this season, it would be a reasonable expectation to see him targeted more in 2016 as a third or fourth option. His raw speed is still an asset and with the polishing of a veteran who works alongside Antonio Brown, his signing to a three year contract for not big money is a great move to retain depth at the wide receiver position for Pittsburgh.