Best defensive lineman in football? Move over, Aaron Donald. There’s a new #1 in town. In Cam Heyward’s mind, he believes he’s the best interior rusher in the NFL. He said as much in speaking to reporters on Thursday, using the never-ending goal to be the best as a key motivator.
“If I could be honest, there are a lot of other players that are really good at my position,” Heyward told reporters via Steelers.com. “But I don’t see the reason why they’re better than me. And that’s just me being honest. I feel like I put in the work. I try to be the best D-lineman in the league.”
That may seem like a strong statement but Heyward is certainly up there with the best of the best. The numbers and the tape prove it. He’s someone who has seemingly gotten better into his 30s, not worse, recording 14 sacks since 2019.
Even in a “down” year statistically last season with four sacks, he remained a force and leader of football’s fiercest pass rush. His impact of the game goes far beyond sack numbers. His run defense is excellent, his ability to collapse the interior helps the EDGE rushers, and he has the third most pass deflections over the last three seasons, including a pair of them against Buffalo last Sunday. He tormented Bills’ left guard Jon Feliciano as QB Josh Allen was sacked three times and pressured countless more.
“For me, around my teammates and playing with this team, I feel like I’m the best in the NFL,” Heyward went on to say.
Of course, most fans and analysts will look towards Donald as the NFL’s gold standard. And it’s hard to argue. The production he puts up despite all the attention he gets is remarkable. Kansas City’s Chris Jones is also a stud who picked up a pair of sacks last week. But every player is confident in themselves. Heyward’s no different. And when you’re a top two or three player at your position, it’s easy to argue and believe you’re the best.
At this point, not only is Heyward one of the best defensive lineman currently in the NFL, he’s one of the best in Steelers’ history. Topping Joe Greene seems impossible but even today, it’s fair to Heyward is in second place. There’s plenty of competition, Greenwood and Stautner being two toughest two, but by the time Heyward finishes his career, he’ll likely be in the 70-sack range. Maybe even higher.
For a guy who barely played his first two seasons, sitting behind Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, the production he’s put up is remarkable. So is his play, which continues to overwhelm offensive lines week after week.