With the Pittsburgh Steelers’ selection of tight end Darnell Washington with the 93rd overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, questions arose about how the team will utilize four capable tight ends. In a press conference after the selection, offensive coordinator Matt Canada was asked about Connor Heyward potentially playing fullback. While he didn’t give a full-blown “yes” to the question, his response certainly makes it seem like that could be a possibility in 2023.
“That’s probably his body type,” Canada said said via the team’s YouTube channel when asked about Heyward playing fullback. “What he can do when we’ve got him as a tight end, but the things he can do, the way we can move him around, probably in that, maybe not calling him a fullback, but I think his skill set fits that role.”
Heyward played a hybrid role in college at Michigan State, but the Steelers seemed committed to keeping him at tight end. He made some plays at the position last year, but the depth chart is a little bit crowded now with four capable options. With no fullback on the roster — Derek Watt remains a free agent — maybe Pittsburgh’s plans have changed and it plans to use Heyward in more of an H-back/fullback role.
Obviously, if Washington is healthy, he’s going to see the field for his blocking ability alone. It would make more sense if those reps cut into Zach Gentry’s, as he is the tight end who has mostly been used as an in-line blocker. But one thing is clear: the Steelers are going to be a ground-and-pound football team next season, so having two capable blocking tight ends certainly isn’t the worst thing.
There are ways the team can get creative with Heyward playing more of a fullback-type position or as an H-back, and there’s no way to spin the drafting of Washington as a bad thing. If it leads to Heyward playing more fullback, then it gives the team plenty of options on offense.
Adding Washington just furthers the plan the Steelers have followed by addressing the trenches and making this a nasty run-blocking team. Mike Tomlin said during the NFL Owners Meetings in late March that the Steelers weren’t being bashful about how they wanted to build the team, and it was through the run. Adding Nate Herbig and Isaac Seumalo was the first step. Now with the additions of Washington and Broderick Jones in the draft, it’s clear that the Steelers are going to be a run-first unit.