After the Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 season ended with a home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, it would have been easy to speculate at that time that wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey would be one of several players who wouldn’t ultimately be on the 2018 53-man roster. However, now that the Steelers have jettisoned wide receiver Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders via draft day trade, Heyward-Bey still has a legitimate shot at making the Steelers 53-man roster a fifth consecutive year.
While the Steelers did ultimately select former Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington in the second-round of the 2018 NFL Draft in hopes that he’ll take over for Bryant as the team’s deep threat moving forward, he’s sure to need a little bit of development and guidance during his rookie season. Additionally, while the Steelers also decided to re-sign wide receiver Justin Hunter during the offseason, the former second-round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans still lacks the ability to contribute heavily on special teams and that’s one area that Heyward-Bey has excelled at since arriving in Pittsburgh in 2014. And while the Steelers might ultimately re-sign wide receiver Eli Rogers by the time training camp rolls around, the fact that he’s coming off a knee injury and best-suited to only play in the slot will make him far from a roster lock.
Having Heyward-Bey in the Steelers locker room is probably like having an assistant position coach around. We saw former Steelers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery play that role in Pittsburgh several years ago and it really appears as though Heyward-Bey has picked up where he left off at. With yet another young wide receiver in Washington now in town, Heyward-Bey has yet another young player in the wide receiver meeting room he can help groom and mentor.
While Heyward-Bey’s contributions on the field as a wide receiver certainly haven’t been plentiful since he arrived in Pittsburgh in 2014 – just 32 receptions for 508 yards and 4 touchdowns – he has been one of the team’s top special team players during that span of four seasons. By my count, Heyward-Bey has been in on 17 total special teams tackles during the regular season over the course of his four seasons in Pittsburgh and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
Will there be a fifth season in Pittsburgh for Heyward-Bey? It’s hard to say for sure as we sit here in early June but when you look at the Steelers current depth chart behind Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Washington, the three players that stick out the most, for what could ultimately wind up being two more spots, are Heyward-Bey, Hunter and Marcus Tucker. Of those three, Tucker is currently receiving the most offseason buzz. Assuming he finally kicks down the roster door in 2018, Heyward-Bey might be left to battle Hunter and maybe Rogers for a fifth and final roster spot. Should the Steelers ultimately surprise us and keep six wide receivers in total, the odds obviously tilt heavily in Heyward-Bey’s favor at that point and especially with the special teams résumé he currently carries with him.
According to Heyward-Bey this past week, his plan to keep his spot in the wide receiver rotation this in 2018 revolves around him staying fast, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. Even though he’s now 31 years of age, Heyward-Bey just might still be one of the fastest three or four players on the Steelers roster. Last year at this same time we wrote about Heyward-Bey working during the offseason with his former high school track coach in an attempt to recoup any speed he may have lost since entering the NFL in 2009 as a first-round draft pick. Whatever Heyward-Bey did last offseason worked as many doubted he would ultimately make the 53-man roster.
Can Heyward-Bey prove his doubters wrong once again in 2018? I certainly wouldn’t bet against him making the final 53-man roster yet again and especially now that Bryant is gone.