I’m not ordinarily one to talk about ‘snubs’—actually, I don’t think I can say that for sure, but I’d like to think that’s the case. The exclusion of Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward from the 2017 Pro Bow, however, is an exception for a player who has been on the borderline of the honor for years and has now put up the ‘traditional’ numbers to support his candidacy.
For a 3-4 defensive end that is not named J.J. Watt to put up double-digit sacks in a single season is an uncommon occurrence, even in defenses that traditionally allow their interior defenders to have a more active role in the pass rush.
The seventh-year player has been one of the top interior pass-rushers throughout the season, with his 10 sacks only being a representation of the total amount of pressure that he has generated in total. By one measure, Pro Football Focus graded him as the second-most efficient pass-rusher at his position behind Aaron Donald crediting him with 12 sacks (they count half sacks as full), nine hits, and 38 hurries for 59 total pressures. Only he and Donald had at least 50.
But Heyward has never been a one-dimensional player, and a defensive end in the Steelers’ system would never be allowed to start if he were. He also recorded 17 run stops during the season, and was only credited with two missed tackles in the run game.
Through 14 games, aside from his career-high 10 sacks—the third-most ever by a Steelers defensive lineman—he also has 41 tackles, a forced fumble, and three passes defensed. He also just so happens to be the captain of a top 10 defense that has really weathered injuries in the second half of the year—not to mention missing Stephon Tuitt earlier on.
Not only that, Heyward was twice named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week in 2017. Back in week four, against the Ravens, he recorded four tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble that he recovered for himself. Then just a few games ago against the Packers, he recorded six tackles and another two sacks, which was a follow-up on a two-sack performance from the week prior.
The problem, of course, is the fact that the NFL, in its antiquated system, still reasons that 4-3 and 3-4 defensive ends are the same position. The selections of Joey Bosa, Calais Campbell, and Khalil Mack are all of merit indisputably. But should Heyward not have made the roster over Jurrell Casey or Malik Jackson?
I have to believe that it is only a matter of time before the league alters the way that they classify these positions. The All-Pro voting has accommodated the evolving nature of the game in recent years, and we all know the NFL is determined to cling to what little prestige remains from the Pro Bowl. Leaving players like Heyward out is of no help.