After the Pittsburgh Steelers selected TE Darnell Washington in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft, it was widely assumed that he would slot in as primarily a blocking tight end in two-tight end formations early in his career and be the second tight end on the depth chart. However, fans should not count out TE Connor Heyward still being a factor for the Steelers’ offense in 2023. QB Kenny Pickett had thoughts on Connor Heyward when he joined older brother Cam Heyward’s Not Just Football show on Monday.
“He’s got a big camp coming up,” Pickett said. “He’s going to be running a lot. I already told him, ‘You better get ready.’ He’ll be moving around, playing some different positions. So I’m excited for him.”
In 2022, Connor Heyward played in 17 games as a rookie. He had 12 receptions for 151 yards and one touchdown while also carrying the ball twice for 27 yards. He picked up a first down on half of his catches and both of his carries. While those certainly aren’t eye-popping numbers, you need to do a little digging to understand why Pickett and the Steelers want to get him on the field.
When talking raw numbers, Pittsburgh had 1,473 yards after the catch as a team in 2022. TE Pat Freiermuth led the team with 291 yards after the catch, but Heyward finished sixth on the team with 5.2 yards after the catch per reception. RB Jaylen Warren, TE Zach Gentry, and WR Steven Sims were the only players with more receptions than Heyward who had a higher yards after catch. So, Heyward showed in limited usage that he has the potential to make things happen with the ball in his hands.
If you go back to his days at Michigan State, that picture becomes even clearer. He played in 49 games over five seasons for the Spartans and had 96 catches for 711 yards and six touchdowns. Not stellar production, but he averaged 7.4 yards per reception. He also carried the ball 211 times for 825 yards and five touchdowns.
While Heyward will likely not be the tight end that Freiermuth is nor the RB that Najee Harris is, his versatility should keep him on the field with even more regularity in 2023. Based on Pickett’s comments, it seems like Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator, Matt Canada, feels the same way.
You can watch the entirety of Cam Heyward’s interview with Pickett and AEW wrestler (and Pennsylvania native) Dr. Britt Baker below.