Now that the 2021 season is over, bringing yet another year of disappointment, a fifth consecutive season with no postseason victories, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically, where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen and are seeing over the course of the season and into the offseason as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future. A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasoning. In some cases, it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances, it will be a direct response to something that just happened. Because of this, we can and will see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: HB Connor Heyward
Stock Value: Purchased
Reasoning: The Steelers used their sixth-round draft pick in the 2022 NFL Draft to select H-back Connor Heyward, where he will work with both the tight-end and running-back groups on the roster, but may ultimately be slotted into the ‘number three tight end’ roster spot.
The Steelers evidently made two highly polarizing draft choices over the weekend, both drawing out the emotions of the fans. One was in the first round. The other was in the sixth round. The latter would be the decision to draft Connor Heyward, a jack-of-all-trades offensive player and special-teams contributor who happens to be the younger brother of their own All-Pro defensive lineman, Cameron Heyward.
Some appear to be rather unhappy that the Steelers used a draft pick on him at all, or at least as ‘early’ as the sixth round, though there isn’t much distinction between how teams use sixth- and seventh-round draft picks. At that point in the proceedings, they are drafting the players they don’t want to compete to sign after the draft as free agents.
Still, it’s fair to question where Heyward fits in, and what they would even ask him to do. Recent Steelers’ history has not exactly given fans good reason to believe that they would find ways to best utilize him. If he is a fullback, then, well, they haven’t been using fullbacks. And they already have a highly-paid fullback in Derek Watt.
Could that change with Ben Roethlisberger retired, Kenny Pickett and/or Mitch Trubisky and/or Mason Rudolph at quarterback, and second-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada more free to implement his own philosophy and tendencies?
We’ll all have to wait and find out, but first, Heyward has to make the 53-man roster. His ability to contribute on special teams makes it highly likely that they will find a place for him, but from where does his roster spot come? They did carry four running backs last season, not including the fullback, so that is one possibility. They could also carry him as the third tight end, at the expense of Kevin Rader.