In late March, Jerrod Heard found himself in an unexpected position — catching passes at the Texas Pro Day instead of throwing them.
A little less than seven years ago, Heard committed to the Texas Longhorns and offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. By the time he signed with the Horns in 2014 as the nation’s No. 2 dual-threat quarterback, Harsin was long gone and the brief Major Applewhite era had ended with the resignation of Mack Brown several weeks before. Charlie Strong was his head coach and Shawn Watson effectively his offensive coordinator in everything but name.
When Heard briefly earned the title of “the most important player in college football” in a reactive Vice article that hasn’t exactly stood the test of time, it was after his electric performance against Cal that earned him a place in the Texas record books. The play caller at the time, Jay Norvell, only stayed in Austin for a matter of weeks and Heard’s time at quarterback was limited, too — by the time preseason camp started the following August, Heard was a wide receiver for Sterlin Gilbert.
The initial returns were positive, as Heard had two catches for 73 yards against Notre Dame in his first game as a wide receiver, then finished tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions with three in 2016.
The arrival of Tom Herman that November meant yet another coaching change for Heard, who was used to them by then. Heard’s production decreased under the new staff, though, as he recorded 20 catches for 156 yards and a touchdown and ended his career with only 13 catches for 115 yards as a senior.
Still, Heard deserves credit for sacrificing the ability to play his longtime position for the betterment of the team and always remained focused on the Longhorns program instead of himself. He universally appreciated by his coaches and his teammates.
Now he’s attempting to find a spot on an NFL roster in a multi-faceted role.
“What I got word is that I’ll probably be a utility guy,” said Heard at the Texas Pro Day. “I can do everything — I can play inside or out. Special teams, I’ll have to make my mark there. I’m excited about that and I’m eager to take on that role. I think I’m athletic enough to do anything they ask me to do.”
The problem is that although Heard indicated he ran in the 4.4s during testing at the pro day, he didn’t have any kick returns or punt returns for the Longhorns and never recorded a tackle on special teams, the areas where he’ll need to have an impact to make a roster.
At 6’2 and 205 pounds, he also struggled as a blocker at times during his Texas career and didn’t show high-level hands or route-running ability.
During the pre-draft process, Heard said that he received some comparisons to New Orleans Saints all-purpose star Taysom Hill and there’s little doubt that Heard needs to find an organization willing to use him in multiple ways to make a roster.
“The league is moving in that direction, so I’m happy about that,” Heard said.
The difference is that Hill is 15 pounds heavier than Heard, which makes him effective in short-yardage situations and on special teams, so the former elite quarterback prospect has an uphill battle ahead of him.