Sack guy or not a sack guy? That has seemed to be the debate surrounding the name of Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive lineman Cameron Heyward. The conversation on Heyward’s ability to get to the quarterback started on a Monday Night Football contest a few months ago when ESPN broadcaster Booger McFarland described Heyward as not a sack guy. While McFarland’s comments ignited a lot of backlash at the time, he never intended any disrespect to the Steelers’ defensive lineman.
“I meant no disrespect to Cam. I said he wasn’t a sack guy based on the defensive lineman that traditionally get 15-20 sacks consistently,” McFarland explained. “That isn’t what Cam is, he has averaged six sacks a year for his career. With that being said he is a top five interior force in the NFL and is on his way to Canton, Ohio. As a former defensive tackle, I understand what sacks mean, trust me I was terrible at rushing the passer.”
McFarland believes that Heyward could be on his way to the Hall of Fame based upon what he sees when he turns on the tape. As he watches the tape, he witnesses something he does not see quite often. It is there that the ESPN broadcaster sees an underrated athlete that is capable of dominating in a variety of different ways.
“Cam is an underrated athlete who can play in any scheme, 4-3, 3-4, doesn’t matter. He has power, plays with leverage and has great technique,” said McFarland.
It is hard to argue with that as Heyward has quietly been one of the NFL’s most underrated defenders over the last number of years. A real technician of the game, Heyward checkmarks all the boxes that teams require of their defensive linemen. He can rush the passer, stop the run and command double teams to open up opportunities for his peers.
While other interior rushers such as Aaron Donald may get all the buzz and attention from various football outlets, Heyward has carved his own route to the top. Though Donald may garner more flash, the Steelers’ defensive lineman has gotten down and dirty in the trenches, playing with a great amount of grit and technique and that has not gone unnoticed. Pro Football Focus has Donald and Heyward graded #1 and #2 respectively on their interior lineman rankings.
In an age of football dominated by sub packages, Heyward has done something that few interior rushers have been able to do and that is stay on the football field for all three downs. That is a testament to Heyward’s skill as in an era where defensive linemen are constantly swapped out for another pass rusher or defensive back, he has solidified his spot on the field.
“Cam brings versatility that few do. There are only a handful of interior guys that can play all three downs well and he is one of them. (He is) a future Hall of Famer who is consistently dominant which is the best thing I can say (about him),” McFarland stated.
Consistency is the foundation of Heyward’s growing legacy in the city of Pittsburgh. The son of Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, the Steelers’ defensive captain has been as strong as iron for the black and gold defense for majority of the last decade.
Heyward has put up seven or more sacks five times, second most in Steelers’ history. He has also hit double digit figures in tackles for a loss five times. Even when he is not making plays in the backfield, Heyward is still a force to be reckoned with. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2013, he has recorded 29 passes defensed, sixth most for a defensive lineman during this time span.
Whether you believe Heyward is a sack guy or not, the truth is he is much more than that. Heyward is a three-time Pro Bowler, a two-time First Team All-Pro and more importantly, he is one of the NFL’s most dominant and underrated talents. That seems to be undeniable no matter who you talk to.