When the Pittsburgh Steelers used their 208th overall selection of the 2022 NFL Draft on Connor Heyward, a lot of fans were a bit confused.
Heyward declared for the draft as a ‘fullback/tight end hybrid’ player, which the Steelers haven’t used in their offense in several seasons. In addition, seeing as though the Steelers’ highest paid player on offense in 2022 is fullback Derek Watt and the fact the Steelers used their second-round pick on tight end Pat Freiermuth last year, both of those positions are already addressed heading into the season. But as we turn the corner into the first ‘game week’ of the Steelers 2022 preseason campaign, Heyward is doing all the right things to prove he isn’t just ‘Cameron Heyward’s little brother.’
Connor Heyward is showing the Steelers he’s better than what was advertised.
After watching his older brother at Steelers camp for the previous 11 seasons, Heyward is experiencing this year’s camp on the other side of the ropes. Although the Heyward’s celebrated the draft together and the brothers becoming official teammates earlier in the off-season, joining forces with his brother in camp is another full-circle moment in Heyward’s professional development. Earlier this week, Heyward talked with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on his new perspective of training camp from inside the ropes:
“It is crazy after growing up and coming here to see my brother,” he said. Coming to the practice facility, that was cool, but coming back to a place I always came as a kid is really cool. It’s surreal, but I know I’m here for a different reason, for work, so I have a different approach to it.”
Steelers’ 12th Year Leader Cameron Heyward on Fight in Camp: “I tend to start things and most people don’t like it.”
Although Watt and Freiermuth are listed at the top of the depth chart at their respective positions, Heyward is clearly willing to do anything and everything to earn a final roster spot. With Freiermuth taking some time off this past week with an injury, Heyward was able to see more reps and continue his relationship-building with the different quarterbacks. Heyward has been able to get work in with each quarterback in drills and has worked a lot with fellow rookie, Kenny Pickett. In practice this weekend, Pickett hit Heyward on a long play-action pass and talked about what went right during the play and Heyward’s development as a route-runner:
“Just the run action, the guys coming off the ball, Connor doing a great job of selling the route and coming out and getting his eyes up. Great play, great call by coach.”
Heyward knows the strength of what a strong quarterback connection brings. As a familiar staple to Ben Roethlisberger’s play-style, the Steelers have grown to be familiar with quarterbacks scrambling out of the pocket, extending plays, and finding ways to pick up yards on broken plays. After practice this weekend, Heyward talked about the work he is putting in to meet that need in the offense:
“To be an NFL quarterback in this league, you got to be able to scramble and be able to make plays on the run,” he said. “And all three of them [Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph, Kenny Pickett] can. None of the rules change when it’s a scramble drill. When he’s scrambling, you got to find space if you’re on that sideline. It’s all about chemistry and just having a good feel for the game. If you’re out there on the field, the coaches have more confidence that you have that.”
Even though Pickett has a strong connection with Heyward, Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph had also had their fair share of success with him in camp as well. Closer to the end zone, Heyward has shown he can be that utility player who will line up wherever and make the play on the ball regardless of where it is thrown. For example, here is one of the best catches of camp off a pass from Rudolph:
— smitty in the streets (@smittywerbin1) July 30, 2022
And here is another impressive catch off a tough pass from Trubisky:
Mitchell Trubisky finds Connor Heyward for a TD…I think.. #steelers
Sorry the first couple vids were blurry I fixed it. 3 incompletions anyway lol pic.twitter.com/Xqk5dxuyyV
— smitty in the streets (@smittywerbin1) July 30, 2022
When the Steelers released their initial 2022 depth chart last week, Heyward’s name was sitting in the third tight end spot behind presumed starter, Freiermuth, and four-year man, Zach Gentry. Meanwhile, it was only Watt listed as the lone fullback on the roster. As one can infer, Heyward is going to be used more as a tight end than fullback, so the initial fan confusion surrounding ‘why did the Steelers draft Heyward if Watt is already on the roster?’ can be put to ease.
The Steelers are able to operate an effective offensive attack while Watt and Heyward coexist in the unit. Heyward has the ability to block, but he’s proving in camp that he has incredible athleticism that not a lot of people expected.
Heyward is showing he has the right footwork, balance, and body control to make tough catches all over the field. Once the ball is in his hands, he’s proving he can pick up good yardage and move the chains. Head coach Mike Tomlin knew what he was getting in a ‘Heyward,’ but Tomlin may not have expected the show he’s getting in camp. Heyward is showing he can fluidly run a full route tree and make himself open against defensive backs.
With that said, he’s going to be a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. With the first preseason game looming against the Seattle Seahawks, don’t be surprised if we see a heavy dose of double tight end sets. In addition, watch for #83 flying up and down the field on special teams. Heyward was a major special teams contributor in college and that is the NFL rookie’s right of passage into making the team’s 53-man roster.
What have you seen of Heyward so far in camp? Do you think he plays better than a seventh round pick? Let us know in the comments below!