Though it was clear from the beginning that wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was never cut out to be a first-round pick, it was in just a few short years that he basically fell from the starting lineup to the bench, which took place in 2013 after he signed a one-year contract worth $3 million with the Colts.
He found himself in a position last offseason in which he was simply looking for an opportunity to play, ultimately signing a veteran-minimum qualifying contract to compete for a roster spot with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While he accomplished the goal of making the 53-man roster, it took the Steelers carrying six wide receivers, a rarity in general, and particularly for them, in order for him to stick. He was the team’s sixth wide receiver for the bulk of the season, although his contributions on special teams made sure that he had a helmet.
But things changed toward the end of the year, admittedly in large part by necessity. By season’s end, Heyward-Bey was fourth on the depth chart, which is where he was to begin this offseason. It’s a position that he hopes to maintain, though he knows it will be difficult to hold off rookie third-round draft pick Sammie Coates for long.
A preseason injury and a transitional phase during his rookie season kept Martavis Bryant on the bench for the first six games, and yet it was his emergence that allowed Heyward-Bey to see more action, because that sent Justin Brown to the bench.
With Brown’s benching, who had been accumulating a wealth of snaps, and Bryant not yet ready for a full plate, Todd Haley divvied up the snaps for his receivers, meaning Heyward-Bey got in on the action. He averaged about 20 snaps per game on offense in the first four games of Bryant’s emergence, until Bryant started demanding more playing time.
A change occurred after the conclusion of the regular season, however—Lance Moore was benched. With Brown having been released, that was a significant decision, leaving the fourth receiver duties squarely in the hands of Heyward-Bey, and he wound up logging 20 snaps in that playoff loss.
While he was only targeted once, making the reception for a six-yard gain, he was involved, being used as a part of the offense, even if much of that was a decoy, taking advantage of his deep speed.
We had already seen during this offseason they the veteran wide receiver does not lack for desire or confidence, fully believing that he is more than capable of continuing to contribute in a significant way on offense at this stage of his career.
While he is not guaranteed a roster spot at this point, he is likely to have one come September, if only for his skills as a special teams player and as a veteran presence among the wide receivers. It will be interesting to see early on how he is used, and when, during the preseason in terms of the pecking order, as it might hint at the team’s feelings around him as a skill position contributor in 2015.