Darrius Heyward-Bey is a former No. 7 overall draft pick by the Oakland Raiders. He is the third-most prolific wide receiver on Maryland’s career receiving yards list and a five-year NFL veteran.
But on Thursday, Heyward-Bey didn’t know whether he would have a job through the weekend.
“I hope it means something good,” Heyward-said Bey after a six-reception, 44-yard performance in the Steelers’ 10-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field. “I hope the GM, the personnel staff and the head coach see that, but I leave that in their hands. I tried to do my part.”
When the Steelers announced their final roster cuts Saturday, Heyward-Bey got his good news: He wasn’t among them. The 27 year-old was one of six Steelers wideouts to make the final cut.
For Heyward-Bey, just making the roster was a comeback performance. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound wide receiver suffered a concussion in a practice drill against defensive backs July 31, delaying his return to the field.
On his third NFL team in as many seasons, Heyward-Bey needed to quickly make a lasting impression on the Steelers’ coaching staff but couldn’t get enough field time to do so. He sat out the preseason opener at the New York Giants and was targeted just once a week later in second-half action against the Bills.
Finally healthy against the Eagles on Aug. 21, Heyward-Bey maximized his late-game reps, catching a 22-yard touchdown pass from Bruce Gradkowski in the fourth quarter to finish with 54 receiving yards. They weren’t the most glamorous reps, but they were reps, and Heyward-Bey took advantage.
“That boy goes hard on every play. Every time he’s out there, he’s going hard,” said fellow wide receiver Markus Wheaton. “I feel like he’s the energy of the group, of the wide receivers, so he keeps us all going and keeps the energy up.”
He also caught coach Mike Tomlin’s eye for his ability to keep a high motor while embracing a new role on special teams, helping in punt coverage and blocking on punt returns.
“I’m a willing guy who will go out there and do anything,” Heyward-Bey said of a third phase in which he rarely was involved in his early NFL career. “I just want to win. That’s the thing about playing and having fun. You gotta win, man.”
Heyward-Bey and the Steelers didn’t deliver on that hope Thursday, as an offense led by quarterbacks Landry Jones and Brendon Kay couldn’t produce any points. Heyward-Bey was a rare playmaker, though, with his eight targets, six receptions and 44 receiving yards all team highs.
He didn’t quite know it at the time, but it was enough to earn his way onto the 53-man roster.
“I feel good about it,” Heyward-Bey said of his night. “I’m healthy, I’m walking. I got a smile on my face. God is good. I hope that’s a good enough answer for you.”