Steelers’ Heyward, Tuitt Both Land In ESPN’s Top 10 Interior Defensive Linemen Rankings For 2021

Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt

We still have several weeks of offseason remaining, and that means several more rankings are on the way from major media outlets and the like. On Tuesday, ESPN unveiled their interior defensive linemen rankings for 2021 after recently surveying more than 50 team executives, scouts, coaches, and players to determine the top ten players at each position. According to ESPN’s polling, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward and defensive end Stephon Tuitt both finished in the top 10 when it comes to top interior defensive linemen in the NFL entering the 2021 season.

Heyward finished ranked fourth overall in ESPN rankings for interior defensive linemen for 2021, with only Aaron Donald, Chris Jones and DeForest Buckner ranked ahead of him. Heyward’s highest ranking this year from at least one person surveyed by ESPN was second overall and his lowest ranking from at least one person was 11th overall.

Below is the writeup on Heyward from Jeremy Fowler of ESPN that includes quotes from a few that took part in the survey.

Heyward isn’t in the top five for everyone, but he rarely falls past No. 7 on the ballots. One of the league’s most consistent performers inside is still playing at a high level. The only real knock is he might have missed a few sacks (four on the year, down from an 8.5 average the previous two seasons).

But his 21 incompletions created is the third-best mark on this list, using his length (34.25-inch arms) and power to penetrate the line.

“Steady, consistent, productive, technician,” an AFC scout said. “Once he gets those long arms in your chest, he can push you back.”

Added an NFC exec: “He really came on late in the year. For that stretch he was back to doing what he does. … When you ply Pittsburgh, he was the guy we said we had to stop. The reason why is you can’t block that joker inside.”

As for Tuitt, he ranked eighth overall in this year’s top 10 interior defensive linemen for 2021. The seven players ranked ahead of him on the list were Donald, Jones, Buckner, Heyward, Fletcher Cox, Jeffery Simmons, and Leonard Williams.

Tuitt actually received at least one first place vote this year, according to Fowler. He also was apparently unranked by at least one person surveyed by ESPN.

Below is the writeup on Tuitt from Fowler that includes quotes from a few that took part in the survey.

Tuitt broke out in his seventh season with 11 sacks, two forced fumbles and 25 quarterback hits.

“Incredibly gifted player,” an NFC scout said. “Comes and goes, but when he’s on, he’s a massive problem.”

That problem manifests in defensive attention. Tuitt demanded 187 double teams on pass rushes (sixth most in the league) despite playing alongside stars Heyward, T.J. Watt, and Bud Dupree.

“Take away the injuries and inconsistencies from past years and he’s top-five, easily,” an AFC exec said. “[Heyward] has been that guy on the [Steelers] D-line for a while, but it kind of started to flip this year where Tuitt got some of the attention.”

Is it a bit shocking that both Heyward and Tuitt landed in the top 10 interior defensive linemen rankings for 2021? No, not really. The biggest surprise might be that at least one person had Tuitt as their top interior defensive linemen over Donald and that another had the Steelers’ former second round selection out of Notre Dame unranked.

Heyward and Tuitt enter 2021 as one of the top defensive line duos in the NFL. In 2020, Heyward and Tuitt combined to have 15 sacks with the latter being credited with 11 of them. The two also combined to have 44 quarterback hits, according to the NFL, and six combined defensed passes. Tuitt also forced two fumbles in 2020 while Heyward recorded an interception.

The Steelers will need another solid combined effort from Heyward and Tuitt in 2021 if the defense hopes to equal or better their quality of overall play in 2020.

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