Connor Heyward leads list of most efficient Steelers pass-catchers

Connor Heyward #83 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates a first down during the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Acrisure Stadium on October 16, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Connor Heyward #83 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates a first down during the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Acrisure Stadium on October 16, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a wide range of results when targeting certain players in the passing game this year. Here’s a look at their efficiency numbers.

Since the bye week, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had a more efficient passing game, but they still have a long way to go. In Week 14 against the Baltimore Ravens, rookie quarterback, Kenny Pickett, was removed from the game early as he was forced to enter concussion protocol.

Former starting quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, had a chance to put up good numbers, but a mistake-riddled game proved to be the dagger for Pittsburgh. Who the quarterback has targeted has made a big difference when it comes to the results.

Now 13 games into the 2022 season, it’s become increasingly clear which pass-catchers have been the most efficient for the Steelers this year. The numbers would indicate that some receivers should be seeing many more looks than they have so far, while others have been so inefficient with their opportunities that they may not be worth targeting at all.

According to ESPN stats, the Pittsburgh Steelers have three skill players who average over 7.0 yards per target. George Pickens has earned a very impressive 9.2 yards per target despite a limited route tree and most of his opportunities coming in traffic. This is good for 14th in the NFL among all players with at least 60 targets this year.

Currently, rookie tight end Connor Heyward leads the team with a thoroughly impressive 10.6 yards per target. While this sample is extremely small (just 10 targets), this number is slightly higher than All-Pro receiver Tyreek Hill and tied with Justin Jefferson. Obviously, it will be really difficult for Heyward to maintain this level of efficiency when targeted, but he has been outstanding so far.

When it comes to passer ratings when targeted, things look pretty similar. Steelers quarterbacks have a 144.2 passer rating when throwing to Heyward. Diontae Johnson is the lowest on the list among receivers and tight ends, as QBs have just a 53.2 passer rating when throwing his way.

It’s important to consider that targeted passer rating is largely a QB stat, and receivers aren’t always responsible for interceptions thrown in their direction. Take the Steelers game against the Ravens, for instance. Mitch Trubisky threw 2 interceptions intended for Pat Freiermuth, but neither was the fault of the tight end. These greatly decrease the passer rating when targeted.

Steelers must shift the target distribution

While I think film and the eye test is always going to be most important, I think what I have witnessed pretty much line up with how these statistics have played out so far. I’ve been saying for weeks that the Pittsburgh Steelers need to see a new distribution of tartets.

In 2022, Diontae Johnson has hogged the market share with a whopping 113 targets so far — good for 7th in the NFL. Yet, the veteran receiver has been one of the least efficient pass-catchers in the league through 13 games this year.

On the other hand George Pickens still isn’t seeing nearly enough opportunity for how impressive and efficient he has been. I have no doubt that Steelers quarterbacks would benefit by looking his way more often, as he has a 103.0 passer rating when thrown to. Pickens is only getting better.

Connor Heyward is perhaps the most interesting name on this list. While he still doesn’t have big role on offense, that could change during the final stretch of the season, as Pittsburgh’s coaching staff is no doubt taking notice of what he’s been able to do with limited opportunities.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Johnson, Steven Sims, and Najee Harris have been among the least efficient receiving options on the team. Sims and Harris have such low yards per target numbers that they probably shouldn’t see many looks in the passing game at all.

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The hope is that Matt Canada and Pittsburgh’s quarterbacks make some adjustments to their offense down the stretch and try to get their more efficient receivers the football. If that can happen, we might see this passing game take a step forward before the 2022 season comes to a close.