Turns out, that silly narrative that formed regarding nepotism after the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Connor Heyward in the sixth round out of Michigan State was much more ridiculous than it sounded on draft day, thanks to Heyward’s performance on offense and special teams in his rookie season.
That narrative surrounding the selection of Heyward at No. 208 overall was that he was only on the Steelers radar, and eventually selected by the black and gold, because his older brother, Cameron, was a team captain and a star player, and that the Steelers were trying to keep him happy.
It was a ridiculous thought back then and remains ridiculous now, especially after the way Heyward acclimated to the NFL in his first season.
The youngest Heyward hit the ground running with the Steelers, transitioning full-time to tight end in the NFL, serving as the No. 3 behind Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry throughout the season. As he got more and more comfortable in his role, and became more and more productive on special teams under coordinator Danny Smith, Heyward started to see his role grow offensively, eventually coming through n a big way in limited reps on the offensive side of the football.
Heyward burst onto the scene offensively with a 45-yard catch-and-run in a 20-18 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 6 at Acrisure Stadium, and then scored his first career touchdown in a special moment on the road against Atlanta in Week 13. Heyward later added a big catch against the Baltimore Ravens at home in Week 14, and then closed out the season in style in Week 18 against the Cleveland Browns, stepping in for the injured Freiermuth to finish with three catches for 45 yards, including an impressive 27-yard leaping, twisting grab in traffic that was rather similar to the catch he had in the Peach Bowl for the Spartans in a win over the Pitt Panthers last season.
On the year, Heyward finished with a 75.1 overall grade offensively, including a 77.6 receiving grade and a 55.5 run blocking grade, playing in 175 offensive snaps. On special teams, Heyward recorded nine tackles, playing in 284 snaps on special teams, good for 65% of the snaps on that unit.
For older brother Cameron, the multi-time All-Pro, Pro Bowler and team captain “can’t say enough” about the work his little brother did as a rookie in 2022 for the Steelers. Appearing on his latest podcast episode of “Not Just Football w/ Cam Heyward” he praised Connor for a strong rookie season, especially coming off of a breakout Week 18 showing.
“I love the way that kid just came along. I’m calling the kid, it’s my little brother, but I just love that, you know, it’s not just he’s my little brother. He’s making his own narrative and he’s continued to just keep growing,” Heyward stated to co-host Hayden Walsh Wednesday, according to video via the NFL on ESPN YouTube page. “He’s got a high ceiling. Like, the kid can play and he wants to be good, plays very good on special teams. But, you know, the career doesn’t end here.
“We’re always judged for more. And the question is, how good do you want to be? We know you can catch, you’re trying to learn how to block, what else can you take into your system?” Heyward added. “And so, man, I can’t say enough about what he did this year. He helped win some games, and he’s gonna leave his own mark on this game as well.”
Heyward was a Swiss Army knife for the Steelers all season long, really developing nicely on offense as that third tight end that really handled the split-zone blocking role rather well. As a receiver, Heyward showed off his hands time and time again, including in the Week 18 win over the Browns with the highlight reel catch.
Coming out, Heyward was viewed as a true football player, willing to do whatever it takes to help his team win.
He did that time and time again, doing whatever was asked of him to help push towards a win.
He’s going to have a long career with that type of mentality, not to mention the skillset he brings to the table. He’s a real weapon offensively moving forward and continues to develop great rapport with fellow rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett.
Heyward proved throughout the season that the narrative that he was on the team only due to who his brother is was beyond stupid. He’s a true football player and showed quite a bit in his first season. The Steelers need more role players lie him moving forward.