Another year has come and gone, with another draft on the horizon. It’s the perfect time to take a step back and reflect on the year that was, especially with respect to the most recent draft class. The Pittsburgh Steelers made seven selections in the 2022 NFL Draft, one in each round except for the fifth (zero) and the seventh (two).
The top of the draft marked one of the most momentous decisions in decades, as they used their first-round pick on the quarterback they hope will be the long-term successor to the retired Ben Roethlisberger. And they used much of the rest of the draft to find him weapons, marking the second year in a row they used each of their top two picks on offense.
Only two defenders were drafted, including a defensive lineman in the third round, the first time they have taken a lineman on that side of the ball earlier than the fifth round since Javon Hargrave in 2016. They also added an inside linebacker in the seventh round, who is the only holdover at the position from last season.
Over the next week, we will be looking at each of these players one by one and examining how their rookie season went and what we can expect from the moving forward, both during the 2023 season and potentially for the long term. But we’ll discuss each briefly below.
Player: Connor Heyward
Draft Status: Sixth Round (208th overall)
Starts: 0 (17 games)
Connor Heyward did not exactly take the league by storm during his rookie season, except perhaps following a brief moment after the Atlanta Falcons game when a moment in time was captured in the similarities between his first NFL touchdown and that of his late father, Craig Heyward.
But I think he did enough to quiet most of the critics of the selection, those who believed he was unworthy of a draft pick and were convinced that he was only taken because of his family connections, his older brother being perennial Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Heyward.
The biggest issue with Connor, of course, is the fact that he is an odd body type. At a listed six-foot, 230-pound frame, what exactly is he if he is not a true fullback? One thing he’ll never be is a regular in-line blocking tight end.
One wonders, with fullback Derek Watt having not been re-signed, if the Steelers will continue to expand the younger Heyward’s repertoire, allowing him to play as a lead blocker out of the backfield and even as a ball-carrier.
At Michigan State, Connor spent time as a running back and then later as a tight end. He amassed 825 rushing yards in all with five touchdowns in addition to 711 receiving yards and four more touchdowns.
As a rookie in Pittsburgh, he was primarily a special-teams asset, logging 284 snaps and nine tackles. But he also did a bit of blocking in space, and he caught 12 passes for 151 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. He also rushed twice, both successfully, for 27 yards.
If we have learned anything about the young Heyward, it is that he is first and foremost a football player. You can figure out the details as you go along, but he is a guy who helps rosters win games in ways that are often hidden to the average observer.