The Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie draft class had a pretty good night, even considering that two of them—fourth-round wide receiver Calvin Austin III and seventh-round quarterback Chris Oladokun—did not play. First-round quarterback Kenny Pickett threw two touchdowns and led a game-winning drive, while second-round George Pickens also scored a touchdown.
Seventh-round linebacker Mark Robinson, meanwhile, forced a key late fumble to set up the game-winning drive, and third-round defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal flashed in his one-on-one battles. Connor Heyward, the sixth-round h-back, also found his way into the end zone for a two-point conversion, a rookie-to-rookie connection Pickett called for.
“I wanted Connor in there”, he told reporters after the game, via the team’s website, about setting Heyward up for the two-point play. “He was one of the guys that I rep with a lot. I have a lot of trust in him. He’s a great playmaker. Just a lot of reps, being in rookie minicamp together, I made sure he was out there for that one. He did a great job. Just turn, I wanted to plug it on him real quick, and he executed it”.
Although it does count as two points scored, the conversion doesn’t go down as a reception for Heyward, nor a completed pass for Pickett, in the official statistic, insofar as preseason statistics mean anything.
Heyward did finish the game with two official receptions on four targets for 24 yards, including a nifty 16-yard grab in traffic, that coming with the first-team offense off the arm of Mitch Trubisky on the second drive of the game, seeing early playing time with both Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry down.
Based on my initial observations, it did appear as though the Steelers used Heyward exclusively at or near the line of scrimmage, with no snaps lined up in the backfield, though I didn’t closely examine all of his snaps. He did typically play off the line as a move tight end, but his assignments will diversify as time goes on.
The question is, perhaps, how much time will he spend working with Trubisky during the regular season? While it seems increasingly likely that he is slotted for occupation in the third tight end roster spot (whether he actually fulfills a conventional tight end role or not), Freiermuth and Gentry are going to command a lot of playing time.
With that being said, when the Steelers still had Eric Ebron in the first half of last season, they did find ways to use all three tight ends, perhaps partly at Derek Watt’s expense at fullback. It’s entirely possible that Heyward will take on the offensive role vacated by that third tight end spot, albeit to a lesser degree, while Watt remains on the sideline.
And as you see, whenever Pickett gets on the field, he may well want to get Heyward out there. The two have been developing a rapport since May. They’d known each other well before the draft, as Pickett wanted to try to bring him to Pitt. Now they’re teammates, and perhaps for a while.