He’s not the Pittsburgh Steelers defender who has been in the league the longest—both Joe Haden and Tyson Alualu were drafted a year earlier than he was—but Cameron Heyward is the longest-tenured defender on the team by two years, over Vince Williams, originally drafted in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
He has represented his team in the Pro Bowl in three consecutive seasons now, the first lineman with the team to do that since Casey Hampton made three consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl between 2005 and 2007 (and also 2003 and 2009; he was injured in 2004, and also missed three games in 2008).
The first time he made it, Heyward was the only defender in the Pro Bowl with the team. Technically, Ryan Shazier had also made it (his second year in a row), but this was of course the year in which he suffered a severe, perhaps career-ending injury, so he obviously did not attend.
“I just think back to my first Pro Bowl, and I remember being kind of lonely, not having any other defensive guys here”, the defensive captain told Missi Matthews this time. “But to see the guys that are here, and they’re all very deserving of it, I think this is something we can build on. I think it’s something where we can have more guys here, or more guys earn that Pro Bowl nomination and move on to a Super Bowl. I think we’ve got to move on to the right step and just keep progressing from there”.
His second year in the Pro Bowl, he was able to bring along T.J. Watt with him. This time around, both Heyward and Watt were joined by Minkah Fitzpatrick, and then Haden was added as a Pro Bowl alternate, giving them four defenders in the game, which unless I’m missing something is their most since 2004. I’m using Pro Football Reference and they don’t include alternates.
Anyway, the point is, the Steelers had a good number of defenders make it to the game there this year, and they felt they could have, even should have, had more. Meaning that they should have even more of their defensive teammates down there with them in 2020.
The leading candidates for that possibility would have to be, depending upon their status, Stephon Tuitt, Devin Bush, and Bud Dupree, the latter of course based on whether or not he re-signs. Other potential candidates could be Steven Nelson and Terrell Edmunds if they can make a nice job.
Bush was an alternate for the Pro Bowl this year already, but the linebacker position didn’t have enough players back out for him to make it. Dupree was probably pretty close to making it as well, though I haven’t seen it confirmed that he was an alternate. As for Tuitt, he was having a Pro Bowl-caliber season through four games before suffering a season-ending injury. So I wouldn’t call Heyward’s suggestion a stretch by any means.