Pittsburgh Steelers sixth-round rookie tight end Connor Heyward hasn’t played a ton for the Steelers, but when he has, he’s made an impact. He had a 45-yard catch-and-run in the team’s win over the Tampa Bay Bay Buccaneers, and then he caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from fellow rookie Kenny Pickett in the Steelers’ win over the Atlanta Falcons. Running back Najee Harris was asked about Heyward today, and he told the media that Heyward’s reps will increase and he thinks he’s going to be a good player in the NFL.
“Kind of been making a lot of plays for sure, for the team too. For him to get implemented a lot in our game plan, it has shown and he’s going to get more reps too,” Harris said via a video posted to Steelers.com. “Obviously, he’s going to be a good player. He’s athletic, he brings a different type of trait to that position. So he’s going to be really good.”
Heyward’s a tweener and is probably too undersized to be a tight end who gets regular playing time long-term. He split his time between tight end and as a ballcarrier at Michigan State, and it’s hard to imagine his 6’0, 230 frame will hold up when he has to block against much-bigger defenders. But as a receiver, Heyward has definitely made an impact, although somewhat limited, this year. He has nine receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown, and four of his nine receptions have gone for a first down. He’s shown an ability to make plays in the passing game, which bolds well for his future.
As Heyward’s reps increase, his opportunities should as well. If he’s able to make more of an impact down the stretch, he’ll be someone to keep an eye on in Black and Gold going forward. The team may have to get creative in their usage of him, and so far he hasn’t played in more than 47% of the team’s offensive snaps when he played in 30 against Tampa Bay in a game starting tight end Pat Freiermuth missed with a concussion.
But Heyward is making the most of his opportunities so far, as he’s made the catch nine out of the ten times he’s been targeted. He’s a unique player, but he can be a little bit of a chess piece for the Steelers if they choose to use him creatively in the present and in the future. The team obviously saw enough in him before the season to keep him as their third tight end ahead of a guy they had some familiarity with in Kevin Rader, and the fact they didn’t put him at fullback, even with Derek Watt holding that fort down tells you that they think he can do more than block and get the occasional carry or reception. It’ll be interesting to see if Heyward’s reps really do increase and if they do if he’s able to take advantage of them.