T.J. Watt had an 82-yard scoop-and-score touchdown on a fumble return. Joe Haden intercepted a pass. It sounds like a typical Pittsburgh Steelers game over the course of the 2019 season, but in actuality, it was just the Pro Bowl, which also featured Minkah Fitzpatrick in the secondary, as well as Cameron Heyward up front.
Nobody has their job in the game more neutered than the guys in the trenches, and that’s especially the case for those on the defensive side of the ball. Limited in what you are allowed to do, it’s probably a bit less fun for a guy like Heyward. But you can tell he’s the sort of guy who loves every minute he’s around the game.
He’s emerging as one of the great players at his position in a fairly late stage of his career. Now 30 years old, and nine years in, he has been on a three-year Pro Bowl run, with two first-team All-Pro nods along the way, during which time he has racked up 29 sacks, accounting for a good percentage of his career total.
While it fell on deaf ears elsewhere, ESPN commentator Booger McFarland at one point during the past season during a Monday Night Football game said of Heyward that he’s “not a sack guy”. He didn’t mean it derisively, even though he was wrong, but he was trying to credit his all-around play.
Working the Pro Bowl yesterday, however, he sung a much different tune, almost as though he were overcompensating for his previous comments. “He’s on his way to Canton, Ohio, in my opinion”, he said of Heyward, the implication being that he believes he has Hall of Fame talent and that his resume will eventually match it.
Does he? Not a lot of 3-4 defensive linemen even make a lot of Pro Bowls, let alone get into Canton. But what if he has three or four more great years? Let’s say he puts up another 35 sacks, four more Pro Bowls, four more All-Pros. Is he a Hall of Famer? That’s frankly a question I never pondered about Heyward. He clearly has a lot of work to do before we can have that discussion, but nevertheless…
McFarland described Heyward as “dominant” and said that he “just has been consistent down in and down out, year in and year out”. Even though it took him into his third season to crack the starting lineup, I think that’s a fair assessment.
Over nine seasons, Heyward has recorded 397 tackles, including 79 for loss, with 54 sacks, 116 quarterback hits, six forced fumbles, five recoveries, and 30 passes defensed. He has been the nucleus of the defense, the captain, for a few years now. If he really wants to bolster his candidacy for Canton, though, he’ll need his team around him to produce better results as well to raise his profile.