What Will Darrius Heyward-Bey's Role Be with the Pittsburgh Steelers?

Andrea HangstFeatured Columnist IVApril 2, 2014

The Steelers' latest signing, Darrius Heyward-Bey, is fast. Is he anything more?
The Steelers' latest signing, Darrius Heyward-Bey, is fast. Is he anything more?Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Steelers added another veteran receiver to their roster on Wednesday. According to their official Twitter account, they've signed free agent Darrius Heyward-Bey to a one-year contract.

Heyward-Bey was drafted seventh overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2009, his speed convincing the late Al Davis to take him with such a high pick. However, beyond flashing his impressive speed, Heyward-Bey hasn't done much over the course of his NFL career.

In four years with the Raiders, Heyward-Bey scored only 11 touchdowns and never broke 1,000 receiving yards in a single season.

He then spent 2013 with the Indianapolis Colts. Despite playing 615 offensive snaps according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he caught a mere 29 of the 62 passes thrown his way for 309 yards and one touchdown.

So what do the Steelers expect to get out of Heyward-Bey in 2014?

Darrius Heyward-Bey Career Stats
via ESPN

Experience and insurance, primarily, as well as that aforementioned speed which the 27-year-old still possesses.

The Steelers lost two of their veteran receivers in free agency, with Emmanuel Sanders joining the Denver Broncos and Jerricho Cotchery choosing the Carolina Panthers over Pittsburgh.

In response, they added free agent Lance Moore to take over Cotchery's role as the Steelers' slot receiver, while it's expected that second-year receiver Markus Wheaton will join Antonio Brown on the outside unless the team drafts a receiver it likes more in May.

In the meantime, Heyward-Bey will be a useful part of Pittsburgh's offseason plans, giving the offense yet another experienced receiver on the practice field.

However, that doesn't guarantee that Heyward-Bey will be on the team's 53-man roster in September. The one-year contract hints that, unless he stands out as a potential playmaker, he might not be with the Steelers for long.

Heyward-Bey won't likely climb higher than fourth on the Steelers' receiver depth chart.
Heyward-Bey won't likely climb higher than fourth on the Steelers' receiver depth chart.Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

If Heyward-Bey does manage to stick on the roster, he'll serve as a fourth or fifth receiver on passing plays, giving quarterback Ben Roethlisberger the option to throw the ball to someone with dynamic speed.

The speed of Pittsburgh's receiving corps took a hit in 2013 with Mike Wallace leaving for the Miami Dolphins and it did again this offseason with Sanders' departure.

While Heyward-Bey more than makes up for that loss of speed, his lack of reliability—he's caught only 46.7 percent of the passes thrown his way during the course of his career—means he'll be a bit-part player. He won't be disrupting anyone's place on the depth chart.

Signing Heyward-Bey won't preclude the Steelers from adding another receiver in the draft, nor does it mean another year of Wheaton sitting on the bench.

While he does provide a level of insurance in case Wheaton or the hypothetical rookie don't develop rapidly enough, he's not on the team to be its No. 2 wideout.

Maybe Heyward-Bey can have a surprising, breakout year with the Steelers. However, his history—which includes being thrown to by a truly talented quarterback in Andrew Luck—doesn't make it all that likely.

The best-case scenario is that Heyward-Bey can play a few snaps, make the occasional play and help mentor the younger receivers on the roster.

The worst case is that he doesn't make it to Week 1, and in that case, the Steelers haven't invested so much into him that the cap hit becomes an issue.