On Thursday, April 28 at 8 p.m. Eastern Time, the NFL Draft will kick off in Las Vegas. The three-day event will conclude on Saturday, April 30 with rounds four through seven, while rounds two and three come on Friday night. It is likely that more than one Michigan State Spartan will hear their name called during that three-day span.
Earlier this month, The Only Colors profiled Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III. In this edition, we turn our focus to tight end/H-back/fullback Connor Heyward, with wide receiver Jalen Nailor still to come.
Name: Connor Heyward
Position: tight end/H-back/fullback
Weight: 233 pounds
Draft Projection: Day Three pick (fourth-seventh rounds) or priority undrafted free agent
NFL Combine/Pro Day Measurables:
40-yard dash: 4.72 seconds
Bench press (225 pounds): 18 reps (at Michigan State’s Pro Day)
Vertical jump: 32.50 inches
Broad jump: N/A
Three-cone drill: N/A
20-yard shuttle: N/A
Heyward chose not to participate in all of the NFL Combine and Pro Day events, but he did put up respectable numbers for the 40-yard dash, vertical jump and bench press. What jumped out most at the combine, however, was Heyward’s excellent hands, which were on display here in the “gauntlet” drill.
At Michigan State’s Pro Day, Heyward did participate in the bench press where he logged 18 reps of 225 pounds. Similar to the combine, Heyward mostly participated in the position and pass-catching drills, where he was impressive.
Overall, Heyward showed descent enough athleticism and impressive enough skills in a specific area (pass-catching) to make him an intriguing candidate for the draft. In the right offense and in the right situation, Heyward could certainly be a solid contributor at the professional level.
Heyward’s versatility and ability to play multiple positions and roles at the next level — fullback, tight end, H-back, special teams, etc. — are going to be attractive traits for NFL teams. He also has a background as a running back and showed improvement as a blocker in 2021 (but still has a lot of work to do there at the next level).
Overall, Heyward recorded a low Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of just 4.61, according to Kent Lee Platte’s latest metrics (slightly higher than the tweet below). But Heyward’s height and weight compared historically to other fullbacks since 1987 are pulling his score down. He also did not participate in the broad jump, three-cone drill or 20-yard shuffle. The majority of metrics Heyward recorded in the drills he participated in fell into the “good” category for RAS.
Connor Heyward is a FB prospect in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 4.58 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 251 out of 461 FB from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/Iza6tDdrce #RAS pic.twitter.com/ioUYNlmqOM— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 4, 2022
It also helps that Connor has the genetics to play in the NFL as well. His father (Craig “Ironhead” Heyward) played in the NFL for 11 years and was a first-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints in 1988 after finishing his career as a consensus All-American at Pittsburgh. In addition, Connor’s brother Cameron is an All-Pro defensive tackle with the Pittsburgh Steelers. It would not be a shock to see Connor join his brother in the Steel City.
Back at Michigan State’s Pro Day, Heyward had this to say about his interactions so far with NFL teams.
“It’s cool listening how (NFL teams) would use me,” Heyward said. “Some teams are thinking H-back or tight end, and some and thinking fullback or something. I’ve done that at Michigan State and it’s nothing that I’m not new to. I feel like you can always work on all parts your game and technique travels.”
Statistics and Accolades
Games Played: 49, including 28 starts
Rushing: 825 total yards on 211 carries (3.91 yards per carry)
Receiving: 711 yards on 96 receptions (7.41 yards per catch)
Kickoff Returns: 723 yards on 33 returns (21.9 yards per attempt)
All-Purpose Yards: 2,265 yards
Touchdowns: 11 total (six receiving and five rushing)
- Finalist for the Paul Hornung Award (for the nation’s most versatile player) in 2018
- All-Big Ten honorable mention kick returner in 2018
- All-Big Ten honorable mention by media and coaches in 2021
Throughout Heyward’s entire career as a football player, the key word has been “versatility.” As a high school athlete, he played five different positions on the gridiron (quarterback, receiver, running back, safety and punter) and started his career at Michigan State as a running back and also contributed early in his career as a kick returner.
After a frustrating start to the 2019 season, Heyward entered the transfer portal in late September and expected to finish his college career elsewhere. But, when Mel Tucker was hired as Michigan State new head coach in early 2020, Heyward had a change of heart and rejoined the Spartans that spring. In the process, he also reinvented himself.
In the 2020 season, he focused more on blocking and pass catching and by his final season in 2021, he officially made the position change to tight end/H-back. Heyward thrived in this role, where he became a valuable weapon for the offense, especially on third down. In his final year, 17 of his 35 catches went for either a first down or a touchdown.
Most notable of these receptions was his second to last catch as Spartan in the Peach Bowl. He caught a 15-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to help spark the Michigan State comeback over Pittsburgh.
Never seen a more athletic play by a fullback. Michigan State’s Connor Heyward is different. pic.twitter.com/EVIhvKywxv— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) January 6, 2022
As for Heyward’s draft potential, most analysts are impressed with Heyward’s hands, tenacity, and versatility, but they are concerned with his blocking, length and athleticism.
Some analysts, including ESPN’s Mel Kiper, are bullish on Heyward and believe that he could be selected as high as the fourth or fifth round.
Mel Kiper Jr. is really talking up FB Connor Heyward - says he's a guy who wears a lot of hats and will be getting a lot of buzz on Day 3 as a 4th/5th round guy.— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) March 23, 2022
"Love the blood line and the history of that family. Everything in that situation, you're rooting for."
But other experts are not as positive. Most mock drafts and “big boards” have Heyward drafted in the sixth or seventh round, if not slipping out of the draft and into free agency. Time will only tell when, where, and if Heyward will be drafted.
What scouts and analysts are saying about Heyward:
“Former running back turned H-back with surprisingly sticky hands and a determined demeanor to find additional yardage after the catch. Heyward fails the pregame eyeball test as a shorter player with a paunchy upper body and a lack of length. However, he catches everything and his tape is filled with good football plays. He has move-blocking potential but is not schooled-up enough in that area for a team to trust him at this point. Heyward’s draft stock might be limited due to his lack of physical traits, but he’s a natural football player who might find a roster spot thanks to his versatility.” - NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein
“I believe when day three begins, we might be talking him up a little bit. I think he’s a fourth-, fifth-round guy. I think he’s going to be a guy that can play in this league…He can be a fullback, you can put him in the slot, you can use him as an H-back, move him around. He can catch, he can block, he gives you a little bit of a running dimension as well, plays hard, physical, tough kid. Love the bloodlines obviously there and the history of that family.” – ESPN’s Mel Kiper, via MLive
“Michigan State tight end Connor Heyward is an admirable story. He transitioned from the running back position to play tight end for the Spartans in 2021 in a bid to help the team and optimize his playing time. The effort paid dividends with a career-high in receptions (35), receiving yards (326), and receiving touchdowns (2) over 12 games played. Heyward doesn’t have high-level physical tools and he at times “wins ugly” in his role, but nonetheless, he has won his reps with consistency and was a key role player in Michigan State’s explosive offense. Projecting him forward, I think Heyward is going to need to find a home where he can continue to “win ugly,” playing on special teams and executing a lot of dirty work in an offensive system that looks to add on to the blocking surface in both the run and pass game with untraditional alignments. I love the story and Heyward is a highly-competitive player on the field, making him a proper investment late in the draft for his ability to fulfill a handful of roles and play special teams.” - The Draft Network’s Kyle Crabbs
“Positives: Large, athletic college tight end coming off a terrific senior season. Displays himself to be an offensive threat. Quickly gets off the line of scrimmage into pass routes, immediately gets to top speed, and splits the seam as a pass catcher. Gets vertical, snatches the ball from the air, and displays good eye/hand coordination. Keeps the play in bounds after the catch and breaks multiple tackles to pick up positive yardage. Runs solid routes for a big man. Extends his hands to make the catch.
Negatives: Must improve his blocking techniques and learn to finish off opponents. Lacks the size, specifically the height, you want in a tight end.
Analysis: Heyward comes off a terrific senior campaign and now projects as a Day 3 pick after receiving street free agent grades from scouts before the season began. He’s sort of an in-between skill player who lacks the height for tight end and the speed for running back. His best spot would be lining up as a West Coast fullback for an offense that employs the position.” - Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline