That Kenny Pickett and Connor Heyward had a connection prior to being drafted over the same weekend by the Pittsburgh Steelers last year is reasonably known by now. It’s a story that’s been told before, or at least mentioned, but it came up again recently in a peculiar way.
Pickett appeared on Cameron Heyward’s Not Just Football podcast recently and the host started off by complaining that he wasn’t invited to the quarterback’s wedding but his youngest brother, Connor, was—in fact, the middle brother, Corey, was Connor’s plus-one. “I’m not even my brother’s first choice”, Cameron joked.
“You know Connor’s my guy, dude. Connor’s my guy. He had a good time”, Pickett said of his draft classmate. “We go back. We go back to ’17. I tried to get him to go to Pitt”.
Pitt being the University of Pittsburgh, the home of the Panthers, where Pickett spent five years and gradually built up a first-round resume. Connor decided to go to Michigan State, where he cycled through a series of positions but showed enough to be a mid-round draft pick by his oldest brother’s team.
Yet Pickett thinks he could have shown more if they were playing together in Pittsburgh. He said of trying to recruit Connor there, along with tight end Dorin Dickerson, “Oh, we tried everything. He didn’t want to come”.
“Biggest mistake”, he added. “Biggest mistake”.
Not entirely seriously, of course, but how might his career gone differently had he chosen to go to Pittsburgh? And why did he decide not to go there? Was it too close to older brother, wanting to carve out his own legacy without bias?
Over five years with the Spartans, the younger Heyward recorded 1,536 yards from scrimmage with 11 touchdowns. He rushed for 825 yards and five scores on 211 carries, but he also recorded 711 yards on 96 receptions with six touchdowns. He had his most productive season as a pass-catcher his senior year when he moved from running back to tight end.
One could argue that he might have been used more creatively earlier at Pitt. Perhaps with more hard evidence of how his skills might translate to the NFL, he could have improved his draft stock a bit. Which may have led him to a team other than the Steelers, without Pickett.
Connor was just 13 years old when the Steelers drafted Cameron back in 2011. Older brother was just beginning to establish himself as a perennial Pro Bowler by 2017 when it came time to make a final decision about where to attend school.
Did he make a smart decision? Well, it led him back to both Pickett and his older brother in an environment that appears to suit him. So from that perspective, you might have to say that it was far from a mistake, after all.