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Why Connor Heyward Is Perfect Culture Fit for Detroit Lions

Read more on whether Michigan State tight end/fullback Connor Heyward could be a fit in the Motor City.

The only way out of the basement in the NFC North for the Detroit Lions is to find as many competitive advantages as possible.

That can be done with either schematic innovation or through going out and acquiring a unique talent that can create mismatches.

One of those unique talents is right in the Lions’ own backyard: Michigan State tight end/fullback Connor Heyward.

His dad was the late great Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, and the game film confirms it: the apple has not fallen too far from the tree.

Additionally, Connor’s brother is another name you've probably heard of: Pittsburgh Steelers five-time Pro Bowler Cameron Heyward.

One of the primary things NFL scouts look for is a prospect’s family bloodline. Does the prospect have any blood relatives who have played in the league? 

In Connor’s case, those bloodlines are strong, which evaluators look at as a predictor of a prospect's chances of success. This will work in Connor’s favor to land his own opportunity in the NFL. 

Connor has been around the NFL his entire life, which also bodes well because he has been taught how to prepare and what to expect.

Heyward has been invited to the upcoming Senior Bowl and he has already received a high compliment. The Senior Bowl’s Executive Director, Jim Nagy, said on Twitter, “Never seen a more athletic play by a fullback. Michigan State’s Connor Heyward is different.” 

Nagy was referring to Heyward’s touchdown grab in his team’s Peach Bowl victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers.

Heyward is like an athletic bowling ball who can catch. That does not sound like something, or somebody, that a lot of NFL defensive backs would like to attempt to tackle. If you don’t believe me, ask Nebraska. Heyward looked like his dad’s namesake out there smashing into defenders. 

This is the competitive advantage Heyward would bring to Detroit. NFL corners are generally hesitant to get involved in support, but they will be even less inclined to want a piece of Heyward and his 230-pound frame, at full speed in the open field.

The 22-year-old grabbed 96 receptions for 711 yards and six touchdowns over his five years playing for the Spartans.

Heyward has a sort of jack-of-all-trades versatility, and he is a solid blocker. Heyward, in fact, held his own while blocking Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson one-on-one on several reps. 

Heyward is more of a hybrid player, who is not limited to playing a single position (which only adds to his value). Heyward can be lined up at tight end, fullback, out wide and he can be motioned in to block or chip block and then go out on a route. He can even be lined up at running back. 

In 2018, Heyward rushed 118 times for 529 yards (4.5 yards-per-carry avg.) and five touchdowns. 

Having a player on offense with this kind of versatility can create mismatches and even confusion for opposing defenses. Heyward has to be accounted for at all times.

It would be a whole lot of fun if Detroit went into two-tight end sets, featuring Heyward and Pro Bowler T.J. Hockenson.


#11 Connor Heyward - 6'0, 230 pounds

2021 game film reviewed: Michigan, Ohio State, Miami (Fla.) and Nebraska

Grade: Fourth round

Scouting Report

Thick-framed, short-to-intermediate target who is tough to bring down and a solid run-blocker. Versatile. Can move around and motion pre-snap. Perfect H-back. Solid and wide frame, plus does a good job boxing out pass defenders as a short-area safety valve receiver. Shows ability to pluck ball with his long arms and confident hands. Quickly gets rolling. Good open-field runner, with above-average football speed for his position. Showcased he can stretch a defense into the intermediate route level. Dependable target who has real receiving skills. 

On running plays, is able to line up tight and hold up at the point. Battles. Able to motion in pre-snap and fire into the hole. Can also kick out or seal off inside on the edges. Good grasp of positional-blocking concepts. Can get out on receiver screens and block in space. Can lead block downfield (see Miami game). Tends to make strong enough contact blocking to do the job. Appears to do everything he is asked to do.

It will be interesting to see how Heyward performs at the Senior Bowl. I am betting he will be a real hit, in more ways than one.