PITTSBURGH — When the Steelers drafted Connor Heyward in the sixth round, many assumed that it would come down to either Heyward or Derek Watt for one lone spot on the team’s 53-man roster, but that might not the case. Watt, a fullback, and Heyward, a bit of a do-it-all Swiss Army knife but primarily a tight end, do have some overlap in their usage and game, and probably figure to be able to contribute in similar fashions on special teams. But there isn’t much a competition brewing so far.
For starters, the Steelers are not even having them play the same position. With Heyward in the tight ends room and Watt with the running backs, the players are more teammates and friends than friendly spirited rivals.
“Honestly, he’s playing tight end right now, so we’re not in the same meetings together,” Watt said. “We aren’t even in the same individual drills together. At the end of the day, he’s a great player, and we’re buddies right now. I’m just getting to know him. There is a little bit of crossover between what I do and what the tight ends do, but at the end of the day, he’s with the tight ends. I’m with the running backs and the fullbacks. That’s where it’s at.”
It is, of course, early in the offseason and lots can change. Heyward has expressed interest in working wherever he was asked. So far, it appears that is likely going to be at tight end. Still, Heyward is capable of playing in multiple spots and making an impact with his hands. It is certainly possible that the Steelers are looking at him more like a third tight end than anything to replace Watt.
“Right now, I’m working strictly with the tight ends,” Heyward said. “But I’m enjoying it. This past year at school I was working strictly with the tight ends, so I’m used to it. But, if they have a change of plans moving forward, or wanna see me do other things, which I know they want me to do, I’ll be more than happy to do that.”
Heyward started out as a running back at Michigan State, and though he never really played fullback, it’s not hard to envision a player that has played tight end and running back being able to play fullback. But one thing Heyward hasn’t done a lot of, either as a running back, or as a moving tight end, is straight-ahead run blocking. As a tight end, Heyward has been more of a pass-catcher than a blocker, and that seems to have continued so far into the NFL, with head coach Mike Tomlin singling out backup Zach Gentry as the best of the team’s tight ends at run blocking. Incumbent third-team Kevin Rader got a shout out, too, and Rader is also a quality special teamer.
This is something to watch as the offseason into training camp unfolds. Heyward, a former running back, could see himself working there with the fullbacks in due time. However, it seems the early plans for the Steelers have tight end circled for the younger Heyward brother, and if he has a position battle at this point, it’s more likely with Rader to be the team’s third tight end than to take Watt’s fullback spot.