The names of those who were selected for the Pro Bowl were announced yesterday, and the Pittsburgh Steelers were not unfairly represented with three contributors of their own—even if the hope, as always, is that none of them will be eligible to participate in the game due to prior engagements the week after.
Of course, two-time-running All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, who leads the league in receiving yardage this season and has continued his ascent into rarified air, was among the three, as were quarterback Ben Roethlisberger—despite missing four games—and right guard David DeCastro, for whom this is the first such recognition.
All things considered, however, I cannot help but feel there is one name in particular that is standing out in its absence from the Steelers’ roster. Yes, I have already expressed my belief that DeAngelo Williams deserves Pro Bowl recognition for 1100 total yards and nine touchdowns—certainly over names like LeSean McCoy and Jonathan Stewart—but that is not the name on the tip of my tongue.
That name would be Cameron Heyward, the Steelers’ fifth-year defensive end who has become the heart and soul of a budding defense, of whom he is the leader, the nucleus, and the energy bringer, as Mike Tomlin likes to say.
Typically, it is difficult for defensive ends in a 3-4 system to produce the numbers requisite to receive the attention of those who do the selecting for the Pro Bowl, but Heyward has had them, not only this year, but last year, and in an era in which J.J. Watt has shattered the apprehension that such roles cannot be playmakers.
Heyward has accumulated 47 tackles to go along with seven sacks, which leads the Steelers, in addition to two pass deflections and a forced fumble. Over the span of the last three seasons, he has compiled 159 tackles, 19.5 sacks, 13 pass deflections, and a forced fumble.
While the selecting process leaned heavily on 4-3 defensive ends, outside of the obligatory Watt, also making the Pro Bowl was Muhammad Wilkerson, who was selected one spot ahead of Heyward in the 2011 NFL draft.
Wilkerson has certainly put up big numbers this year, registering 56 tackles to go along with 12 sacks and two forced fumbles. Truthfully, looking at the other names that have made the list at the defensive end position, it is hard to find one undeserving or has purely made it on reputation.
It simply has been a very good season for pass rushers in general, with at least two teams likely to finish the season with over 50 sacks. There are often no teams who reach that mark in a season, but there are already five teams with at least 40, including Pittsburgh.
Unfortunately, some of Heyward’s finest talents are those that are not obviously recognized on tape, and completely invisible on stat sheets. What he brings to not just the Steelers’ defense, but the team as a whole, cannot be quantified in numbers. But he is just the player who would not be concerned with Pro Bowls in the first place, so who am I to state his case?