As usually is the case at this time of the offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver group is a crowded one. However, unlike most years, this offseason the team’s wide receiver group includes several players with higher pedigree and at least some level of NFL game experience.
Included in this year’s large group of wide receivers is veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey, who is now in his ninth season and fourth with the Steelers. The former first-round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders entered the NFL in 2009 as a speed burner out of Maryland and while we don’t know for sure if he can still run the 40-yard-dash as quick as he did when he participated in the 2009 NFL Combine, he apparently focused on his quickness some during the offseason.
According to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com, Heyward-Bey, who ahead of the 2009 scouting combine had reportedly been running his 40-yard-dash in the 4.2-second range during test runs at the Athletes’ Performance Institute, “reconvened” with his former high school track coach in Owings Mills, Md., this offseason to presumably work on regaining any speed he may have lost over the years.
“I wanted to prove not only to the coaches but to myself that I can play with these younger guys,” Heyward-Bey said, according to Fowler.
During his last three seasons with the Steelers, Heyward-Bey, who turned 30 this past February, caught 30 passes for 461 yards and four touchdowns. While he did play in all 16 regular season games in his first two years with the Steelers, Heyward-Bey missed six games last season due to a foot injury that he suffered in Week 9.
While Heyward-Bey’s receiving stats over the course of the last three seasons have been very limited, he has managed to become quite a heady and productive special teams contributor. According to NFL stats, he has registered 11 total special teams tackles during his three seasons with the Steelers.
With fellow wide receiver Martavis Bryant now hopefully back for good from his year-long suspension and the Steelers selecting former USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second-round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Heyward-Bey will likely have to hope he can beat out several other younger wide receivers currently on the roster during the remainder of the offseason in order to make the 53-man roster this year. While his recent special teams play certainly should help him in that battle, you have to wonder if it will ultimately be enough.
Regardless, it will be interesting to see if Heyward-Bey’s offseason need for speed will ultimately show that he can still play with the younger players currently on the roster.