Connect with us

Steelers News

Steelers All 90: Connor Heyward Ready for Expanded Role



Steelers Connor Heyward

During the 2022 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Connor Heyward played in a hybrid tight end role. Unlike the traditional tight end, Heyward was featured in the passing and rushing game as the player to get the ball.

Expect more of that in 2023 as the Steelers are transitioning Heyward to more of an H-Back role. In the team’s OTAs held in June, Heyward received playing time at inline tight end, flexed-out tight end, H-back, fullback, and as a traditional running back. Playing multiple positions is not new to Heyward as he played running back and tight end in college.

“Little league, I played running back,” Heyward said. “In high school, I was a receiver and a safety, and then a running back in college before tight end. Just being able to plug and play, whenever my number is called, being able to make the most of my plays.”

Even with the extra duties heading into his second year, Heyward stated that he feels like he will be even more comfortable with the offense this year due to him simply not being a rookie anymore.

“Last year, I felt like I knew the offense, but it’s your rookie year. A lot of things are going on. This year, I feel like I’ll be extremely comfortable,” Heyward said.

The addition of Darnell Washington to the tight ends room is the main reason that the Steelers feel comfortable flexing Heyward out of position slightly this year. Due to his smaller build, Heyward was never going to be a good run-blocking tight end but with Washington there to fill that role, Heyward can do the things that he is good at which is running and catching the ball.

RELATED: Connor Heyward Named Steelers Surprise Offseason Standout

The addition of Washington also invites the idea of having all four tight ends on the field at once since Zach Gentry and Washington are more of the extra lineman type of tight ends while Heyward and Pat Freiermuth are the receiving threats.

“I think we could all be out there and one time if we had to be, all four of us,” Heyward said. “So it’ll be interesting to see how we use all four of us. We have different skill sets. That’d be really cool.”

While his role is sure to expand this season, Heyward stated that the offense is expanding in general and that he is excited about the direction that everything is heading in 2023.

“Some of our plays have changed. We’ve added some stuff to it. We’ve also taken some stuff out. So it’s like good and bad. I’m looking forward to this year.”

83 • Connor Heyward, Tight End, Michigan State
6-foot-0, 230 pounds, 24 years old, 2nd Season

Acquired: The Steelers drafted Heyward with the 208th overall pick in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Steelers Connor Heyward

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Connor Heyward (83) is upended by Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David (54) after a 46-yard pass play from quarterback Mitch Trubisky during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Last SeasonHeyward appeared in all 17 regular season games for the Steelers as a rookie in 2022. He caught his first NFL pass in Week 5 against the Buffalo Bills. In that game, Heyward caught two passes for 12 yards. The next week, Heyward caught 2 passes for 49 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Heyward hauled in his first NFL touchdown in Week 13 against the Atlanta Falcons, a 17-yard toss from Kenny Pickett.

Steelers Preseason TE Connor Heyward

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Connor Heyward (83) catches a pass for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

Heyward really picked up steam in the second half of the season. His first NFL carry was a game-clinching 21-yard run against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 16. In the team’s final game of the season, Heyward recorded a season-high three catches for 45 yards against the Cleveland Browns.

In total, Heyward played in 17 games as a rookie and finished the year with 12 receptions for 151 yards and a receiving touchdown. He also added two carries for 27 yards.

Year GP Receptions Rec Yards Rec TDs Carries Rush Yards PFF Rating
2022 17 12 151 1 2 27 74.1

CollegeHeyward committed to Michigan State University after a storied high school career at Peachtree Ridge High School. He appeared in 12 games as a true freshman and finished the year with four receptions for 13 yards and a touchdown. He added three carries for 10 yards on the ground. Heyward mainly starred on special teams as a returner where he led the Spartans with 20 kick returns for 436 return yards.

In 2018, Heyward appeared in 13 games for Michigan State and produced the best numbers of his collegiate career. He posted 32 receptions for 249 yards while adding 118 carries for 529 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. He posted five games with 100 or more all-purpose yards. For his efforts, he was named a semifinalist for the Paul Hornung Award which is given to the nation’s most versatile player.

Heyward played in the first four games of the 2019 season before being shut down to preserve his redshirt. He finished the year with seven receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown. He added 24 carries for 79 yards on the ground in 2019.

Heyward played in seven games in 2020 as he led the team in carries with 65 and he ran for 200 yards. He added 18 receptions for 71 yards and two touchdowns as a redshirt junior.

In 2021, Heyward started all 13 games for the Spartans at tight end after switching from running back in the spring. He hauled in 35 passes for 326 yards and two touchdowns as a redshirt senior. He carried the ball just once for sevens yards. Heyward capped off his Michigan State career by helping lead an 11-point comeback against No. 11 Pitt in the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl as he caught five passes for 37 yards and a fourth-quarter 15-yard touchdown.

Year GP Receptions Rec Yards Rec TDs Carries Rush Yards Rush TDs
2017 12 4 13 1 3 10 0
2018 13 32 249 0 118 529 5
2019 4 7 52 1 24 79 0
2020 7 18 71 2 65 200 0
2021 13 35 326 2 1 7 0

Salary cap and future: Heyward is entering the second year of his standard four-year rookie contract. He will cost $908,806 against the Steelers’ 2023 cap space. His cap hit in 2023 included an $870,000 base salary and a $38,806 prorated bonus. Heyward is signed with the team through the end of the 2025 season when he will become a free agent.

The rest of the 90: