We know what the Pittsburgh Steelers have at the top of their depth chart. Antonio Brown, the best receiver on the planet. JuJu Smith-Schuster, the up-and-comer, and heck, he’s probably already there. And James Washington will be a starter soon enough, even if that day isn’t today.
The concern is what’s behind the top three. Because someone is going to get hurt and the Steelers depth tested. There’s good reason for worry. Eli Rogers isn’t on the roster yet, Justin Hunter has always been bark not bite, and there’s a lot of players without NFL snaps vying for a roster spot (Marcus Tucker leads the list). The forgotten man in all of this is Darrius Heyward-Bey. He’s a maxed out player, you know what you have in him, but his value is in the versatility. There isn’t much he can’t do if called upon.
As a veteran who has had to wear whatever hat asked of him to maintain his role, he’s learned to play any position on the roster, even if ideally, he’s an outside receiver. Here he is as the X, weak, receiver (it’s a 2×2 set but I consider DHB weak because he’s on the opposite side as the tight end and the RB is aligned away).
Or the Z, strong side receiver. He’s capable of playing the X or the Z spot and a skillset well enough to handle the basic roles of either. The X, the big-play threat, or the Z, the bigger/blocker type.
And you can play him in the slot to. He’s gotten enough reps there to earn the trust of the coaching staff and with the new OC being in-house, I don’t think that’s going to change.
Or even his use as a blocker, capable of lining up between the tackles and digging out a safety if they need the extra man. Like he did in Week 15 against New England.
Obviously, his primary value comes on special teams. He finished 5th on the Steelers with 231 snaps there and 8th among all WRs in the league. He’s a four-phase player who can run down kicks and punts with the best of them. Like this tackle after only a 19 yard gain on Alex Erickson, one of the league’s best return men. DHB is second to the right.
He’s still wicked fast, highly conditioned, and a leader in the room. The player who takes young guys under his wing and helps teach them the game, watching film, answering questions, as opposed to Brown, the guy people watch work and emulate from afar.
Every team should have a Heyward-Bey. The guy you can count on, on or off the field.