I have over the course of the past several seasons turned to a series of articles around this time of year in which I looked to explore the issues and questions facing the Pittsburgh Steelers during the upcoming season and trying to identify the range of possibilities in which any given scenario can end.
I started out with a dual series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take and switched last season to the Devil’s Advocate series. In an attempt to find a more streamlined solution with a title more suited to the actual endeavor, we are introducing a simple Buy Or Sell segment exploring whether the position statement is likely to be worth investing in as an idea.
The range of topics will be wide, from the specific to the general, exploring broad long-term possibilities to the immediate future of particular players. I will make an argument for why a concept should be bought into as well as one that can be sold, and you can share your thoughts on which is the more compelling case while offering your own.
Topic Statement: Darrius Heyward-Bey will be on the 53-man roster this season.
There are those who have been trying to throw wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey off the roster for years now. Others do value his importance on special teams and as a leader among the wide receivers on the practice field, even if he rarely gets the opportunity to play in games. I’m hoping the answers to this topic don’t just break down ‘partisan’ lines, so to speak.
Right off the bat, we already know that Heyward-Bey is not one of the top three wide receivers on the team unless something back happens. Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Martavis Bryant are solidly ahead of him on the depth chart, and perhaps others will be too by September.
But nobody is ahead of him on the unwritten gunner depth chart. He has been the team’s top gunner for the past couple of seasons now, and frankly when he’s not out there on that unit the punt coverage loses something. That alone gives him a lot of value.
Add in the fact that the Steelers are transitioning to a new wide receivers coach and could potentially have two important wide receivers this September who are in their first or second seasons, and his veteran presence also keeps him on board. Last year, while Richard Mann was out of commission, Heyward-Bey coached the wide receivers during rookie minicamp.
But the life of a special teamer is always such that there will be a day you are replaced. While it’s important to have skilled players in the third phase of the game, there is a balance when you are building a roster that includes young players with potential on offense or defense and who have to cut their teeth on coverage units anyway.
Especially if the team re-signs Eli Rogers and drafts a receiver, there’s no doubt Heyward-Bey will struggle to keep his job. And the team has shown much interest in doing both of those things. That alone would already give them five wide receivers without including Justin Hunter or Marcus Tucker.