The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Cameron Heyward will record double-digit sacks in 2019.
Explanation: With Heyward coming in at 88 in the NFL Top 100 Players list this year, I figured he should be the subject of today’s topic. The veteran has averaged 10 sacks over the past two years, with eight in 2018 and 12 the year before. He made the Pro Bowl in both years, but was an All-Pro in 2017 as well.
It’s not a debate over whether or not it’s a possibility for Heyward to record 10 sacks. He’s already been there and done that, even if it has, so far, only been once. We know that the potential is there, so the question is whether or not it will happen this year.
And it should. He is as healthy as he has ever been, playing at as high a level he has ever been, and should have the best defense he has ever played on as a full-time starter. The coverage in particular should be able to hold quarterbacks in the pocket longer this year, and that goes not just for the cornerbacks but also the safeties and linebackers. That is going to translate to more interior pressure getting home, and we already know Heyward is going to win most of those races into the backfield.
At the same time, with the emergence of T.J. Watt, and what I expect to be better blitzing from the inside linebacker position, I believe those two sources are going to take away some of the sacks Heyward might otherwise get. I also see a career year statistically for Stephon Tuitt, which is going to make it more difficult as well on the elder statesman to put up his numbers.
10 sacks is always a high number to predict for anybody who is not playing an edge defender role in a defense, and even then there’s some give and take. There are too many variables that go into producing a 10-sack season, many of which are not in a player’s control.
There are only 23 players in NFL history who have had more than five 10-sack seasons, and few of them played an interior position. Jason Gildon, James Harrison, and LaMarr Woodley are the only Steelers to have done it more than twice while with the team, and Keith Willis is the only lineman to ever do it more than once. In fact, he was the only lineman before Heyward to do it.