Pro Football Focus is passing the time this offseason by unveiling its list of the Top 50 players currently in the NFL. The first Steeler to appear on that list? Defensive lineman Cam Heyward, grabbing the #31 spot in Sam Monson’s article. Explaining the selection, Monson writes:
“The later into his career he gets, the better Heyward seems to play. His best four seasons in terms of PFF grade have been his most recent four seasons, and Aaron Donald is the only interior lineman who has a higher overall PFF grade since 2019.
The longtime Steeler’s 75 defensive stops lead all players at his position over the same period by seven, and he trails only Donald in terms of total pressures. The Los Angeles Rams star is in a world all by himself, but Heyward has a good case to be seen as the best interior defender not named Donald in the NFL — and that’s an impressive achievement.”
High and well-deserved praise for Heyward, who has flown under the NFL media radar for far too long. His accolades began to perk up once the team switched his position from defensive end to defensive tackle, meaning Heyward was no longer competing with 4-3 defensive ends who could put up 15+ sack seasons. But Heyward has been one of the league’s best and most consistent players. His 2020 numbers might not look like much, and his four sacks were the least he’s had since 2012 (excluding his injury-shortened 2016 season). But he was still a dominant force who makes everyone around him better.
For his career, Heyward’s racked up 58 career QB takedowns, making four Pro Bowls with a pair of All-Pro selections. He and Stephon Tuitt are among the best interior duos in football, arguably the top pairing. They complement each other well. Heyward winning with power and brute strength, Tuitt with quickness and hand use. The Steelers’ defense has recorded 50+ sacks in four straight years. If it achieves that mark again, it’ll be the first unit to do so since the 1983-1987 Chicago Bears.
The Steelers should have at least one more name appear on PFF’s list. It’s not a question of if T.J. Watt appears, but how high they’ll rank him among all the quarterbacks and receivers of the world. Aaron Donald figures to be the top-ranked defensive player, but can Watt snag second place? He deserves it.