In today’s NFL, it’s swiftly become a young man’s game, especially at all positions outside of the kicking game and quarterback.
Playing at a high level into your early-to-mid 30s in the trenches is a tough task, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are fortunate that star defensive lineman Cameron Heyward continues to play at a high level overall. At just 32 years old, Heyward is coming off of a down season overall, in terms of his numbers, but his importance to the defense has never been higher.
He’s still putting up a fight for the “old” guys in description alone.
Ahead of the 2021 season, Heyward remains held in high regard around the league and throughout media circles, which is shown by the veteran defensive lineman landing inside NFL.com’s Best 30 Players Over 30 list, which was put together by analysts Ali Bhanpuri and Tom Blair.
Prior to the 2020 season, Heyward came in at No. 5 in the list, but after recording just 4.0 sacks last season Heyward falls to No. 13 ahead of the 2021 season, falling behind defensive names like Bobby Wagner and Khalil Mack in the list.
“Of the players who started for Pittsburgh in the Steelers’ last playoff win, back in the 2016 postseason, just three remain on the roster: Ben Roethlisberger, Stephon Tuitt and Heyward,” Blair writes. “And while Roethlisberger appeared to hit a wall last season, Heyward remains, a decade into his NFL career, one of the most important pieces on a defense that ranked third in yards and points allowed in 2020. Heyward produced just four sacks all year, but he racked up 46 pressures, per Next Gen Stats, tied for 13th-most in the NFL, and earned Pro Football Focus’ 13th-best defensive grade among all players (minimum of 100 snaps).”
Though the number of sacks may have dropped in 2020, Heyward — who also ranked No. 57 in the NFL’s Top 100 this summer — still got after the passer in a big way and a dynamic force up front opposite Stephon Tuitt, who had a career-high 11.0 sacks last season. With added attention to Tuitt this year once he’s back on the field, Heyward and nose tackle Tyson Alualu should see increased one-on-one matchups, allowing Heyward to get back up there in sacks, which will go a long way towards the Steelers’ dominant defense continuing its dizzying pace of 50+ sacks year after year.