ESPN has named Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Connor Heyward as the team’s surprise offseason standout for 2023.
Heyward came a long way during his rookie season in 2022 after being selected out of Michigan State in the sixth round last April. The 6-foot, 230-pound former college running back does not have the typical body size for an NFL tight end, but he made up for it down the stretch run of 2022 with outstanding hands and running ability for a tight end.
As should be expected for a sixth-round pick, Heyward started the season slowly. He played just one snap of offense in the overtime season opener at Cincinnati and totaled just 12 snaps of offense through the first four weeks.
When Kenny Pickett took the reins starting in Week 5, Heyward caught his first two passes, and he finished the year with some big plays down the stretch. He caught his first career touchdown in the fourth quarter to beat Atlanta in Week 13. He had a game-sealing 21-yard jet sweep against the Raiders on Christmas Eve. Then, he broke out in the final game against Cleveland, hauling in three passes for 45 yards to help beat the Browns.
Now, it seems that Heyward is in line to continue that growth in the 2023 season, even with the Steelers drafting tight end Darnell Washington in the third round, with another position that might be an even better fit for Heyward’s physical tools opening up.
“His chemistry with quarterback Kenny Pickett continued through the spring, and with Derek Watt’s departure, Heyward could fill the role as the team’s primary fullback and see time as an undersized yet strong tight end,” ESPN’s Brooke Pryor wrote.
The Steelers have only undrafted rookie Monte Pottebaum on their 90-man roster as a fullback, and with Washington added to the tight end group, it certainly seems likely that many of Heyward’s 2023 snaps could come as a fullback or an H-back type of hybrid, letting the longer-framed players in the Steelers tight end room handle the in-line duties.
“Yeah, I mean, that’s probably his body type, right?” offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. “What he can do, and we’ve got him as a tight end, but the things he can do, the way we can move him around, maybe not calling him a fullback, but I think his skill set fits that role.”