With the 2016 NFL Draft now over and the bulk of the heavy lifting done with regard to the roster building process now out of the way, it is easier to begin to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand at certain positions, and what the implications might be of a variety of moves for certainly players.
And take stock is what we shall do, as every move has ramifications up and down the roster, so now we will take a look at some specific players and see how the team’s moves during the course of the offseason thus far, and more specifically since the draft, has sent their stock rising or falling.
Player: DE Cameron Heyward
Stock Value: Up
Can former first-round defensive end Cameron Heyward still be seeing his value rise as far into his career as his sixth season? I certainly believe so, and much of that admittedly has to do with the growth that is taking place around him.
I believe the biggest asset to Heyward’s future continued improvement is in fact the synchronous growth of his running mate, third-year defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who entered the starting lineup on a full-time basis last season, and obviously delivered a very encouraging performance.
In the Steelers’ first season of playing in a primarily nickel defense with a two-man front, and with the defensive line drawing significantly more penetrating, one-gap assignments, Heyward and Tuitt combined to record 13.5 sacks in 30 combined games. Heyward led the team with seven sacks, while Tuitt finished second on the team with 6.5 sacks.
The more that Tuitt can be relied upon to be independently successful without being watched over, and to carry out more complex assignments in the defense without concern of making a mistake, the less responsibility falls on Heyward, who can then carry out more aggressive assignments.
It is important to stress the level of transition that the defensive line experienced not only with the change at defensive coordinator, but also with the personnel behind them. Heyward (and Tuitt) both had to deal with a revolving door at outside linebacker around them, for example.
The more familiar their role becomes, in logging upwards of 600 or more snaps in a two-down-lineman front, and drawing a greater responsibility in bringing direct pressure on the quarterback, the more we can expect from the Steelers’ defensive ends in that role, even one in his sixth year.
One specific area in which I would like to see Heyward improve is in producing ‘splash plays’, specifically turnovers. While he forced one fumble last season after chasing Joe Flacco from behind and swatting the ball out of his loose arm for a sack, that was only his second forced fumble of his career, and the first since his rookie season.
His greatest ability, however, has long been, simply, his availability. He has very rarely even missed any snaps due to injury, and has yet to miss a game, playing in all 80 regular season