2023 Stock Watch – TE Connor Heyward – Up

Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 season is over, the team finishing above .500 but failing to make the postseason, we turn our attention to the offseason and everything that means. One thing that it means is that some stock evaluations are going to start taking on broader contexts, reflecting on a player’s development, either positively or negatively, over the course of the season. Other evaluations will reflect only one immediate event or trend. The nature of the evaluation, whether short-term or long-term, will be noted in the reasoning section below.

Player: TE Connor Heyward

Stock Value: Up

Reasoning: With the Steelers only retaining Zach Gentry on a one-year contract and not re-signing fullback Derek Watt, the door, for now, appears to be open for Connor Heyward to see an expanded role on offense in his second season.

We don’t know exactly what the Steelers are planning to do during the 2023 NFL Draft, but if I were to place a bet right now, I would put money on their not drafting a tight end. They should go into the 2023 season with the exact group of three they brought in last year.

Still, even if they were to draft a tight end, it would be unlikely to affect Connor Heyward’s status, since there remains an additional roster spot open that belonged to former fullback Derek Watt. That is a role that he might even step into himself, in fact.

Drafted in the sixth round last year out of Michigan State, Heyward is a player without one true position, so his strength should be as a jack of all trades. His primary function is and remains to be a special teams contributor, something he did well as a rookie, but he could expand his game on offense.

It helps that he already had a good rapport with draft classmate and starting quarterback Kenny Pickett. The latter even recalls once having tried to recruit Heyward to go to Pittsburgh and play for the Panthers together. Their connection was on display in training camp, in the preseason, and then even in games that mattered.

It does remain to be seen just what role the Steelers envision for him, and indeed what he is even capable of. Either way, they’re not likely to make extensive use of a lead blocker as a fullback, but is that something that he could do with consistent reliability?

Likewise, he’s also not going to be asked to be a regular in-line blocker, but there are a lot of things the Steelers could ask him to do, particularly as a receiving option, possibly helping to create mismatches. And his background as a running back is an asset as well.

Heyward managed to play 174 offensive snaps during his rookie season, a number I imagine is higher than most expected he would see. Some of what was due to injury, but the point is the team trusted him with that work. And it’s nearly as much time as Watt saw on offense during his three years here.

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