When it comes to figuring out how the wide receiver position will be jumbled given all of the variables that the Pittsburgh Steelers are facing this week—Eli Rogers looking like he will return, meanwhile, the possibility of both Sammie Coates and Markus Wheaton being out—it would seem that veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey has been overlooked in the commotion.
Not that that is terribly surprising, given the fact that he really has only been targeted a handful of times over the course of the season, even with the injuries. He did not receive any targets in the season opener, nor did he see a pass in his direction on Sunday.
But that doesn’t mean he didn’t play. In fact, he played a good amount, over 30 snaps. And he saw a lot of time in the slot, with 18 of his snaps coming as the inside receiver, with an additional five snaps in which he was the only receiver to one side of the field.
Of course, it should probably be noted that almost a third of his snaps came on running plays, and that actually accounts for a decent number of his snaps taken from out of the slot. It is interesting to note the different qualities that a player like Heyward-Bey with his blocking ability can bring to the position in contrast to somebody like Rogers or Wheaton.
But the truth is that the Steelers have been utilizing Heyward-Bey more, and giving him a lot of time in the slot, ever since Rogers went down, even though he has generally been viewed primarily as an outside receiver, given that his greatest asset is his long speed.
If the Steelers end up missing both Wheaton and Coates, of course, Heyward-Bey is going to have to take a lot of reps on the outside, and that may have the ripple effect of us seeing running back Le’Veon Bell lining up at wide receiver at an even higher percentage than he has been over the course of the first two weeks since he has returned from a three-game suspension.
That is not to say that Rogers would not get some time on the outside, including in two-receiver sets, as he has already done that at times over the course of the first three games of the season before he suffered a toe injury that has caused him to miss the past two and a half games.
But Heyward-Bey’s role as a wide receiver will obviously expand significantly this week if the team manages to lose two from their group, considering that they use three at a time about two thirds of the time. He hasn’t had a big impact yet, though he does have a touchdown, but he is the next man up.