Steelers’ Derek Watt Breaks Silence on Connor Heyward Coming to ‘Take My Role’

Derek Watt Steelers

Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images Derek Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers tackles Isaiah McKenzie of the Buffalo Bills on September 12, 2021.

Pittsburgh Steelers fullback Derek Watt is set to count $4,713,334 against the salary cap in 2022, making him the team’s most expensive player on the offensive side of the ball (per overthecap.com), ahead of newly re-signed starting right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor ($4,333,333) and recent free agent acquisition James Daniels ($4,166,666).

Hence the narrative that 2022 sixth-round pick Connor Heyward was drafted so the Steelers could part ways with Watt, and save his $2.75 million salary.

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Now Derek Watt is pushing back against the idea that his job is threatened by the Michigan State product, who happens to be the younger brother of Steelers All-Pro defensive end Cameron Heyward.

“It’s the comparison, he’s the younger guy coming in to take my role. It’s not what it is,” Watt told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “He’s a great kid. He brings a lot to the table, and he’s with the tight ends. He’s trying to find a role in this offense for himself. I’m trying to expand my role. We’ll see what happens.”

That dovetails with what tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts said after the draft, telling Teresa Varley of Steelers.com that the team is going to start by taking a look at Connor Heyward as a tight end, while also acknowledging his potential as an H-back/fullback/special teamer.

It leaves Watt in prime position to continue in his role as starting fullback/special teams captain — where he can continue to provide the “hidden value of Derek Watt,” as head coach Mike Tomlin put it last year.


Watt is Entering the Last Year of a 3-Year, $9.75 Million Contract

To be sure, the Steelers are overpaying for Watt’s services. In his first year on the team, he didn’t record a single carry or reception while playing just 52 snaps on offense.

In 2021, he had three receptions for 15 yards and one carry for a single yard while playing 86 snaps on offense, according to Pro Football Reference. He also played 332 snaps on special teams (68% of the team’s total) where he recorded 11 tackles (nine solo).

For what it’s worth, he had the highest Pro Football Focus grade of any Steelers player on offense in 2021 (76.9), suggesting that he did an admirable job when he did appear on offense. And, he was one of five Steelers players to receive at least one All-Pro vote (for special teams).

But that’s still not enough to justify $9.75 million over three years, a deal that got even more backloaded in the wake of a contract restructure in March 2021.


Derek Watt: Blocking for Najee Harris ‘Can Definitely Make You Look Good’

As for this coming season, Watt told Rutter there’s “definitely opportunity” for him in the team’s 2022 offense, though he’s not sure how much.

If nothing else, he’d like to do more blocking for 2021 first-round pick Najee Harris, who had 307 carries for 1,200 yards as a rookie and figures to remain the focal point of the offense this season.

“Blocking for him, he can definitely make you look good,” said the former sixth-round pick (Chargers, 2016). “I always love blocking for him. … He makes a lot of things look good. He’s a great running back. To be out there, to be able to lead the way for him, is big.”

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