Clearly, the year-long suspension of Martavis Bryant has significantly bumped Darrius Heyward-Bey’s status amongst the receivers in contention for playing time. And the Steelers’ minimal options within the receiving corps can’t hurt his chances.
But what may be even more of a reason for an increased role within the offense, is his production in 2015. I admit, I’ve overlooked this in the past. Several weeks ago I posted an article referring to the Steelers’ big play ability heading into next season, but I left Heyward-Bey off the list. Looking back, this was a mistake. Originally I intended to only include players who would see significant playing time, and I realize now that Heyward-Bey may very likely be on the field often. And I believe last year helped establish his “revival” as a wide receiver.
To look at last year’s stats we first have to go back to his days in Oakland. Heyward-Bey was drafted by the Raiders in the first round in 2009. The hype surrounding him was huge, and he was expected to put up pro-bowl numbers. Instead, he wound up injured, starting just 11 games. And in those 11 games, he managed just 9 catches for 124 yards and 1 touchdown.
The next year, he nearly tripled those numbers, except still only had one touchdown. And then came his breakout year in 2011. He started 13 games, recording 115 catches, nearly 1,000 yards receiving, and 4 touchdowns. Unfortunately, it was that lone season that appeared to put him on a downward trajectory. He eventually went to Indianapolis in 2013 and then found his way to Pittsburgh in 2014.
We know his story by now: A highly touted athlete who had to reestablish himself in the league through hard work. He did just that, working in any capacity to help, especially on special teams. And last year, he made the most of every opportunity when called upon to help the offense. With Bryant sitting out 4 games last year, Heyward-Bey stepped in to produce in his place. In his minimal time on the field, he snagged 21 passes for 314 yards and 2 touchdowns. And he logged 15 yards per reception, the 2nd highest of his career next to that impressive 2011 season.
Ironically enough, Heyward-Bey didn’t play in all 16 games of a season until he left Oakland. And since then, he has played in every game at some capacity. Granted, he’s only started 5 games with Pittsburgh, but last year’s numbers show he still has something left in the tank when it comes to being a receiver.
In fact, if you were to extrapolate his 2015 starts to match that of 2011 (13 starts), he would’ve set career-highs in nearly every category. Now to be fair he likely won’t start 13 games in 2016, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. He has some tough competition in Sammie Coates, and has Eli Rogers knocking on the door. But there’s no doubt that the guy can still get it done, and he may be the best candidate in helping stretch the field and keeping safety’s honest. Not to mention. he’s got the comfort of a three-year deal now, which he signed back in March.
And he expressed his value to Mike Prisuta in his article on Steelers.com saying, “I play ‘X’, ‘Z’ and ‘F,’ I do it all…I’m a slot guy, I’m a block guy, I’m everything. Young guys come up to me and say, ‘Hey, what do I do on this?’ And I know it all.”
He sure does. It’s going to be hard to keep him off the field for extended periods of time given his knowledge of the offense, and his resurgence as a receiving threat. This corps is going to be fun to watch in 2016, and don’t be surprised if Heyward-Bey continues to build off of the momentum from last year.