Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey’s career has certainly gone through a transition since the Oakland Raiders made him a top-10 draft pick so many years ago. While he had a couple of productive seasons, he failed to ever establish himself as a legitimate number one receiver with the team that drafted him.
After leaving the Raiders, Heyward-Bey joined a young Andrew Luck, signing a one-year, $3 million contract to provide a veteran presence for the budding star to throw to. Unfortunately, his performance was plagued by drops, and it wasn’t that long before he lost his place in the starting lineup, and then the rotation altogether, reduced to a special teams role.
Last season, he hooked up late with the Pittsburgh Steelers on a one-year, veteran-minimum qualifying contract as he clung to the hope of sticking on a 53-man roster, and it very well may have taken the team’s uncommon decision to carry six wide receivers in order to get him to stick.
But a year later, he seems to have found his place, and is expected to make the roster after proving his worth as a veteran leader, a strong run blocker, and a valued special teams contributor, where his elite speed has been best put to use.
Still, he is far from resigned to his status as a marginal, bit player limited to contributing as a clamp on kickoff coverage units, looking to be the first man down the field. The veteran Heyward-Bey still believes that he has the talents to be an offensive contributor, and is moving forward with the mentality of being just that.
As quoted by the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Heyward-Bey said that his “No. 1 role is to be the best receiver on the field”, which is an interesting statement on multiple levels. That he views his primary function on the team as a wide receiver, rather than a special teams contributor, which is what the snap counts would indicate, confirms his view of himself as an offensive player, first and foremost.
While he knows that he plays with arguably the most talented wide receiver in the game at the moment, and is the old dog in a pack full of young, talented, and exciting receivers looking for more playing time, he still has the confidence in his own talents that he is right in line with them, and that he could be the best of the group on any given play.
Still, he has no problem fulfilling the assignments given to him by head coach Mike Tomlin, whom he said “leans on me to hold the (wide receivers) together, make sure everyone is on time and that we are all accountable on and off the field”.
He also talked about constantly being in the ears of the young receivers because he knows that they will get their opportunities as opponents focus on Antonio Brown. Martavis Bryant has previously cited Heyward-Bey as an influence in his decision to improve his conditioning during the offseason. Still, while he may relish watching his teammates find success, he is still hoping to see some of that success for himself.