Over the course of the past couple of days since the Pittsburgh Steelers re-signed free agent wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey—which is, from a broader perspective, a pretty minor move—much has been made about what he will bring to the table, as well as whether or not he deserves to have a seat at said table.
He had one last year, and there are two seats less than there were last season in his game of musical chairs, so as to the last point, I don’t see why he isn’t at least deserving of the opportunity to circle the furniture while the music plays.
Heyward-Bey was a first-round wide receiver draft bust who brings a lunch pail attitude along with him and is a strong presence in the locker room. He plays with humility on the field, doing the dirty work of taking his run blocking assignments seriously and contributing positively to the Steelers’ special teams units.
But maybe, just maybe, he could also, you know, catch the ball every once in a while as well. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of talk about that subject, but maybe there should be.
Since being drafted in 2009, Heyward-Bey had not played less than about 600 snaps in a season until last year with the Steelers, where he failed to reach even a quarter of that number. In other words, he does have, at the bare minimum, the playing experience.
But when has he ever had any meaningful stability? The closest once could make that argument would be in 2012 during his final season with the Raiders, which was Carson Palmer’s second season as the starter there. Before, he was being targeted by Jason Campbell, Bruce Gradkowski, and JaMarcus Russell. And that’s not to mention changes in offensive coordinator.
Heyward-Bey just so happened to post his best numbers with Palmer, with nine of his career 12 receiving touchdowns coming in those two seasons. While he was targeted significantly less in that second year, he continued to post good numbers, though his catch rate suffered from Palmer’s deep inaccuracy (7-for-42 with two drops during those two seasons).
In 2013, Heyward-Bey had just one season with a young Andrew Luck who was quickly acclimating to the young targets around him. The veteran receiver and young quarterback never entirely got in sync, and Heyward-Bey’s handling issues that seemed to be in decline crept back up.
In 2015, he is entering arguably the most favorable position of his career in every aspect barring reasonable expectation of playing time. He has technically moved up the depth chart and has a second offseason to work with Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley to work on a game plan to allow him to contribute.
It’s not as though Heyward-Bey is not a talented wide receiver. He does have assets that can be used on offense, but he hasn’t always had the opportunity to best take advantage of his skills. Perhaps he will be in a better position to do so this year and could legitimately fill that number four wide receiver role.