New series for the site over the next month. I promise we’re not going all Embrace Debate on you but Jonathan Heitritter and I have teamed up to debate issues we have genuine, good-faith disagreement over Steelers-related topics. Let us know who made the better argument and what side of the debate you come in on in the comments below.
Today’s topic is…
Should The Steelers Keep Derek Watt And Connor Heyward?
Jonathan – The Steelers Should Keep Both
After the Steelers drafted Connor Heyward in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, many thought that the selection would spell the end of FB Derek Watt’s tenure with the team. Still, once the selection was made the coaching staff integrated that Heyward would be used in a variety of roles. He is listed as both a TE and FB on the team’s roster and has experience playing both as a traditional running back, at H-Back, and in the slot as a receiver during his time at Michigan State.
Because of his diversified skill set, I would be all for the Steelers keeping both Heyward and Watt on the roster in 2022. While Watt brings some offensive production to the table dating back to his time with the Chargers, the actual production on the offensive side of the ball for Watt is minimal, at best. Connor Heyward brings far more to the table as an offensive weapon, showing that he can be a viable pass catcher from the FB/H-Back position, as an in-line TE, and even when split out of the formation as a receiver. He also rushed for 818 yards on 210 attempts and five touchdowns during his college career, having a skill set that Watt just doesn’t have.
Still, Watt brings his own skill set to the table that Heyward needs to prove with a year of NFL experience before he can truly supplant Watt’s spot on the roster. Watt is a core special teams player, having led the team in special teams tackles last season. On top of this, Watt is an accomplished lead blocker and hopefully will get more run this season leading the way for Najee Harris as Pittsburgh attempts to shift more to a run-heavy offensive attack with Ben Roethlisberger no longer under center.
Heyward will have to prove that he is a capable special teams player as a rookie and while he provides some bright instances as a lead blocker, he still has some learning to do before he is ready to take over the full time role as a fullback.
When it comes to Heyward’s spot on the roster, he should make the team at the teams TE3 and fill in other areas as the backup FB, special teams contributor, and even as an option at backup RB. When it comes to the concerns of Heyward’s size at TE, it would be hard to expect him to base block DEs regularly.
However, based on a film assessment I conducted post-draft on Heyward and his blocking, he has shown to be capable as a wing/H-Back/in-line TE when asked to make the block out on the edge on occasion. Given that Freiermuth and Gentry would run in front of him as well as OT Joe Haeg will likely report eligible in jumbo sets, the likelihood that Heyward sees extensive time on the LOS is minimal.
I see 2022 as a passing of the torch year from Watt to Heyward who can come the teams listed FB in 2023. In all reality, Pittsburgh isn’t going to release Watt with one year left on his deal and Heyward may likely be a game day inactive on the 53-man roster to avoid ricking him not making it to the practice squad. The Ravens, 49ers, and Raiders have carried two fullbacks on the roster in recent seasons and seeing as Pittsburgh can have Heyward replace Kevin Rader on the 53-man roster, Watt and Heyward can co-exist on the team together in 2022.
Alex – The Steelers Shouldn’t Keep Both
Could the Steelers keep both Watt and Heyward? Sure, that is possible. Heck, it might be likely. But as Patton Oswalt once said, it’s not about coulda, it’s about shoulda. Here’s the thing. It’s 2022. This isn’t 1947 and we’re all out here running the Single Wing. Two fullbacks is a redundancy, a bug, not the feature, and completely unnecessary when you have 53 valuable roster spots.
And I know, I know. Alex, Connor Heyward is a tight end. I can stand in my garage and it doesn’t make me a car. Cam Heyward would be a better tight end than Connor. You can’t ask a 5’11, 220 pound player with 31 inch arms to be an in-line blocker. To base block 4-3 ends. To take on TJ Watt. Are you out of your mind? We’re not in the Big Ten anymore. This is the NFL. And Heyward is going to get his lunch eaten if Pittsburgh chooses to consistently use him as an in-line blocker. His overall versatility is a plus and hopefully he’ll be used all over the offense, and of course on special teams, but there just isn’t a need for both guys.
Trimming down a roster is about two things. Maximizing value and making hard decisions. You have to get the most out of your 53-man bunch. And while it may be tough to envision now, there is going to come along an unsung hero of the summer you really want to keep on the roster but run out of room for. Is it worth it to have an extra fullback at the expense of that other player at a more valuable spot? No.
It’s easy to just put Watt and Heyward on the roster. Though I don’t believe Pittsburgh would do it out of pure, unabashed nepotism, making Cam and TJ happy is always a plus. Keeping both makes everyone cheery. But sometimes a roster has to make tough choices. Pittsburgh tried the two fullback idea years ago with Roosevelt Nix and Will Johnson but quickly realized how inefficient that all was.
So who should get the job? Whoever’s the best man. The best asset for the team. I’d lean towards that being Heyward, he’s the better athlete, more versatile, and provides more offensive value, but he’ll have to prove his worth on special teams. But if it’s Watt, Heyward could always land on the practice squad. Just don’t tell Dan Campbell and Detroit he’s out on waivers and the Steelers will be fine.
Here’s the best reason why you don’t keep both. The second you do, the countdown begins for Derek Watt to exit the Steelers. It’ll be clear Heyward is his replacement and Pittsburgh’s only keeping Watt because they can. But it would start an inevitable clock. Just like with Nix/Johnson, it may start with both making it and dressing but it’d quickly revert to only one dressing and finally, one – Watt- being shown the door. Rip that bandage off this summer.