For a player who finished up the 2016 season on the shelf with a serious injury, I’m not sure we are really talking as much about Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward as we should. More specifically, the fact that he has been able to return to play so well should be celebrated.
The seventh-year defensive end, I think it is safe to say, is having one of his best seasons so far, if not the best, through the halfway point at least. Statistically, he has assembled a stat line of 27 tackles with five sacks and a forced fumble. Those are strong numbers, and yet they don’t paint the full picture.
I would argue that Heyward has been the Steelers’ best defensive player, even more so than Ryan Shazier, because the latter has not been as consistent in his performance. I don’t think that Heyward has yet had a mediocre game this season.
While it is actually somewhat surprising that he has not recorded a batted pass so far this year—he has 18 in his career, and four just last season in seven games—all of the rest of his statistical output is where you would like it to be.
Given that we are halfway through the year, projections are easy. He is on pace to record 54 tackles this season, which would be tied for the second-most in his career. Generally, anywhere north of the half-century mark is a strong body of work over the course of a season for a 3-4 defensive end.
His five sacks through the midway point actually put him on a pace to hit double digits this season, something that many have long believed he has the potential to achieve. He has twice hit at least seven sacks, with a high of seven and a half. He needs just three sacks over the course of the next eight games to break his own personal best.
Interestingly enough, his forced fumble this season—which he recovered himself—is actually only the third of his career, the first of all came all the way back in his rookie season, when he was still just being used as a depth rotational player.
I don’t think I would be going out on a limb by suggesting that the strength of his season has so far been his work against the pass. He has been the most consistent player on the defense in terms of generating pressure, and he has been having solid success translating that into quarterback takedowns as well.
All this coming off the back of a truly injury-riddled year for Heyward, who never had a significant injury in his first five seasons, playing in every game. I think the fact that he has come back as good as ever is one of the biggest stories of the season for Pittsburgh, easily. Since we’re on a break this week, we might as well talk it up a bit.