New Steelers receivers Heyward-Bey, Moore are deep on NFL experience
Darrius Heyward-Bey knows there are more accomplished receivers than him in the NFL.
The former top-10 pick, with his third team in three years, isn't blind to the fact there have been more talented receivers running routes alongside him during the first three days of Steelers organized team activities.
But what Heyward-Bey offers (even more than his 4.2 speed), along with fellow free agent Lance Moore, is what the Steelers hope offsets the loss of Emmanuel Sanders (Broncos) and Jerricho Cotchery (Panthers): experience.
“A coach would like to play a guy who knows what he is doing first over the guy who has all the ability,” Heyward-Bey said. “That's something that works in my favor.”
While the Steelers wait to see whether Markus Wheaton can take a step forward in his second season and claim a starting spot and for fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant to learn the system, the Steelers went with a fallback plan steeped in experience in the interim.
Heyward-Bey, who signed for the league minimum, has played in 72 games in five years including starting 63. Moore has 101 games played in a pass-heavy offense like New Orleans.
Add those two to tight end Heath Miller and receiver Antonio Brown, and Ben Roethlisberger will head into the season with the second-most experienced group of pass catchers he has had in his decade as the Steelers quarterback.
The only time Roethlisberger had this experienced of a receiving group was in 2010 when the Steelers last went to the Super Bowl. That unit — with Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El — had 31 more games played than this year's projected unit.
“It's fun to see the transition with the new guys and some of the other faces getting back out here,” Roethlisberger said.
While Heyward-Bey and Moore might not have the talent of some of the other receivers on the roster, they have experience, the ability to play multiple positions, the trust of their coaches and, most important, intelligence.
“The one thing that has kept me in this league — and I have started every year that I've played in this league — is that I am a smart guy,” Heyward-Bey said. “I know a lot of different places to play on the field. Some guys are handcuffed to one spot, where I feel like I am intelligent.”
Heyward-Bey, who can play outside or inside, brings something to the Steelers that they lacked last year following Mike Wallace's departure to Miami — the deep ball.
The Steelers had 32 receptions of 25 yards or longer with a large portion of those being catch-and-runs by Brown.
Over his five years in the NFL, 26 percent of Heyward Bey's targets have come from 20 yards or longer.
“They think I am fast,” Heyward-Bey said. “I have been the same speed my whole life. If that is what they need me to do — to be the deep threat — that's what I will do. If they need me blocking, then sure. If they need me on special teams … I am a team-first guy.”
Brown added: “He is definitely a blazer and can be a real asset to our team.”
Moore's versatility and experience playing in an up-tempo offense are what attracted the Steelers to him. Despite being 5-foot-9, Moore can play all three positions, even though slot is where he excels. He also is a legitimate red-zone option as 26 of his career 38 touchdowns have come inside the 20.
“I've prided myself in my career being one of those guys that kind of just does whatever the team needs him to do,” Moore said. “I played a lot of football and have been successful in a number of roles, catching the ball and in a bunch of different situations as well. I feel like I have made a lot of plays and will continue to do that.”
All that is left is for Heyward-Bey and Moore to get familiarized with Roethlisberger and coordinator Todd Haley's offense.
“Getting on the same page is the most important for a new receiver with a quarterback who has been somewhere for a long time,” Moore said. “You have to do what it takes to get on the same page.”