The one surprise Steelers player who actually benefits from Arthur Smith

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Connor Heyward (83)
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Connor Heyward (83) / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has already been said about new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. While I am personally not the biggest fan of the move, what’s done is done, and I am ready to see where he takes the Steelers this season. While the majority of the focus has been on what he brings to the table for Kenny Pickett and the running game, we may be overlooking the single biggest winner of this move.

While I have a lot of questions as to how Smith will use some players, one individual has to be licking his lips to get into this offense. That player is Connor Heyward, who could slide more into a hybrid fullback/tight end. It wouldn’t be the first time Smith utilized a player in that role, and there is a history of success there.

Steelers have already gotten good play from Heyward

I had a lot of questions about Heyward when the Steelers drafted him in the sixth round. While a fun player in school, his move to tight end seemed to limit his professional options. He is short and on the lighter side to play inline as a tight end, so a fullback or H-back role seemed like his best fit. The Steelers had a history of not getting the most out of unique players like that, so the fit was heavily in question.

He has proven me wrong, becoming a fine offensive player as well as a core special teams option. His playing time blossomed with Pat Freiermuth injured, and he made the most of limited action. That said, it seems like his role could be better defined under Smith and take advantage of his unique traits.

Smith has a track record of using this type of player well. In Atlanta, it was a more traditional fullback in Keith Smith. Frankly, this isn’t the best comparison for Heyward as a player, as Smith is your classic blocker who offers very little as an offensive weapon. What is important to note is that despite these limitations, Smith played roughly a quarter of the offensive snaps.

Where it really gets interesting is with the Titans, when he used hybrid tight end Anthony Firkser as the primary fullback. While slightly bigger than Heyward, both are very similar players, and I think Smith can emulate a lot of what Firkser did with Heyward.

While still a blocker, Firkser was used in multiple different formations and as a receiver. He compiled nearly 600 receiving yards and 53 receptions in his two seasons with Smith. I think Heyward is a better overall weapon, so the results could be even better for him.

Heyward also showed growth as a blocker this year. No, he wasn’t perfect, but in space, he could pick up a linebacker if needed. It isn’t his strong suit, but add in his ability as an offensive weapon and he fits this role well. I think the results could be great, and with Alec Ingold the reigning AFC Pro Bowl fullback, Heyward could make a run at that role.

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While the Steelers could go out and reunite their new offensive coordinator with Smith or Firsker, I think Heyward seems like a natural fit for this role. He can maintain his tight-end snaps as well, which gives him more avenues to playing time. I'm not overly high on the Smith signing, but if his addition has helped anyone, it seems like it could be Heyward.