New series we’ll conduct throughout the offseason. A review of individual players seasons, looking at their good, bad, role, and future with the team.
We’ll flip back to the defense for our assessment of DT Cam Heyward.
#97 Cam Heyward – Defensive Tackle (Entering 12th Year)
Pros: Elite strength, one of the strongest players at his position. Repeatedly wins with strength and impeccable technique. Not only controls point of attack but able to push linemen into backfield, forcing backs to change path and disrupt pullers from wrapping around. Routinely wins leverage battle and gets under blocker’s pads. Good burst off the line to help create power, heavy hands and punch to jolt linemen back. Rarely not in control of the block, almost never ends up on the ground.
Collapses pocket with bull rush and long-arm. Sets up his rushes well with subtle changes in his shade, often aligning outside shade before rushing head up/inside shade. Uses head fakes well and knows nuances of pass rush to get linemen off-balanced and unsure of how he’ll attack. Added more finesse moves throughout his career and will flash a spin move to keep lineman guessing. Brutal hit power and ability to finish. High IQ and understands blocking schemes. Knows down/distance and helps him bat passes at line of scrimmage, impacts the pass game without getting after the quarterback. Incredibly consistent player down-to-down. Player opposing offenses must scheme around and often try to run away from.
Fanatical effort player, some of the best hustle plays you’ll see from his position. Chases ball hard and immediately, takes good upfield angles to meet players in space. Shows same effort at beginning and end of games. Seven tackles of 10+ yards in 2021, most by any defensive lineman.
Emotional player who wears heart on his sleeve, visibly reacts to high/low moments and a leader of his group and defense who rallies the troops. Captain and respected in locker room, selfless player willing to mentor, team-first mentality. Willing to do anything it takes to help the team, even played some nose tackle in 2021 to compensate due to injuries on the line. Accountable, accepts blame even when undeserved and deflects criticism from teammates and coaches. Assignment-sound and trusted by coaches, gets other players lined up in correct spots. Professional in every sense.
Plays high volume of snaps, one of the top marks in the league at his position. Incredibly durable, occasionally gets rest days in practice but doesn’t miss time due to injury. Hasn’t missed game due to injury since a 2016 season-ending torn pectoral muscle. Versatile and can play any position along the line. Crafty on stunts as the looper, able to free up the crasher. Hides twists and games well to avoid tipping off O-line.
Notable Plays (Effort Tackles, 10+ yards downfield)
Cons: Wins with power most of the time, not often with finesse moves. Gets sack numbers but can be a bit limited because focus is on collapsing the pocket more than cleanly shedding blocks. First step is quick but not elite. May try to do too much at times and make every play, especially when defense is struggling.
Role: 1,064 total snaps (defense + special teams) led league among position group. 955 defensive snaps only trailed Aaron Donald (1,041) while 81.9% snap count was third at his position only behind Donald and Jeffrey Simmons. Next-highest snap percentage of a D-lineman his age (32) was Cam Jordan at 74.3%. One of only two Steelers’ DL in 2021 to play 300+ snaps.
Future: Coming off his best year at 32, Heyward shows no signs of slowing down. He’s one of the top defensive tackles in a league full of elite players (Donald, Jones, Simmons). Will go down as one of this era’s top players and among the greatest defensive linemen in franchise history. Has potential to be on Hall of Fame track if he keeps up current pace of play for another 2-3 seasons. Age does make you question if he can play at this level at the volume of snaps for too much longer.