The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the offseason, following a year in which they had high hopes for Super Bowl success, but ultimately fell short of even reaching the postseason at 8-8. It was a tumultuous season, both on the field and within the roster, and the months to follow figure to have some drama as well, especially in light of the team’s failure to improve upon the year before.
The team made some bold moves over the course of the past year, and some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago, or even at the start of the regular season. Whether due to injuries or otherwise, a lot has transpired, and we’re left to wonder how much more will change prior to September.
How will Ben Roethlisberger’s rehab progress as he winds toward recovery from an elbow injury that cost him almost the entire season? What about some of the key young players, some of whom have already impressed, others still needing quite a bit of growth? Will there be changes to the coaching staff? The front office? Who will they not retain in free agency, and whom might they bring in?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Who is the best interior defensive lineman in the AFC North?
Note: for simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to use images of Steelers for the cover photos of these articles. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m arguing they’re the best.
I’m pretty sure Cameron Heyward is going to win this one, but I don’t believe there isn’t a discussion to be had. And before we get into it, I’m separating 4-3 defensive ends here and grouping all 3-4 linemen as one group, focusing on edge defenders tomorrow, so Myles Garrett is not a part of this discussion.
The Steelers, of course, have two of the best defensive linemen, also including Stephon Tuitt. But the Baltimore Ravens just brought in Calais Campbell, and the Cincinnati Bengals do have Geno Atkins. The Cleveland Browns have Sheldon Richardson, but nobody is going to pick him over the others that were mentioned above.
Campbell was recently named to the 2010s All-Decade Team. Heyward was likely in the discussion, but ultimately Cameron Jordan was favored over him (in addition to J.J. Watt and Julius Peppers). But he has been a Pro Bowler for three years running and has two All-Pros to his name.
Campbell, I think, can be argued to have been better at his peak, but he is now in the downside of his career, while Heyward is still in his prime. Tuitt is in his prime now, and if he can ever have a healthy season, there’s a legitimate case that he can be better.
Then there’s Atkins, who’s just been doing his thing forever. He, too, was on the All-Decade team, by the way, and helped redefine the defensive tackle position, paving the way for Aaron Donald to be a first-round pick.