When it comes to selecting in the first round of the NFL Draft throughout his career, Pittsburgh Steelers’ General Manager Kevin Colbert has historically done a tremendous job grabbing high-level talent towards the back end of the first round overall.
Now, he can add the distinction of grabbing the best-ever No. 31 overall draft pick in NFL history, according to CBS Sports’ Jordan Dajani.
That player? Future Hall of Fame defensive lineman Cameron Heyward.
Drafted No. 31 overall in 2011 by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin, Heyward stands above the other players in NFL history drafted in the same slot overall, edging out the likes of former Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, former Dallas Cowboys center Travis Frederick, former NFL wide receiver Tommy McDonald, and former Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Oiler and Detroit Lions Hall of Famer Curley Culp.
“It takes a lot to stand out among the many great defensive linemen in Steelers history, but Heyward has done his part. In 10 NFL seasons, Heyward has notched 58 sacks and 86 tackles for loss, along with 138 quarterback hits. He’s been named a Pro Boor wler four times and an All-Pro thrice, including two times to the first team,” Dajani writes.
“Heyward began his career as a rotational contributor along Pittsburgh’s defensive front, but he’s been a full-time starter for the last eight years, and has been the anchor of the Steelers defense for every one of them. His combination of size (6-foot-5, 295 pounds), strength, length, and quickness has made him a terror for opposing offensive linemen to deal with, and has allowed the Steelers to shift him all over their defensive front. He’s lined up on the edge, as a tackle, on the nose, and even as a sort-of linebacker in amoeba-esque fronts,” Dajani added.
“He’s ranked inside the top 10 in Pro Football Focus’ grading of interior defensive linemen three times in the past four seasons, including second behind only the great Aaron Donald in 2019. Equally proficient against both the pass and the run, he is still near the top of his game, with no real drop-off in sight. Signed with Pittsburgh through the 2024 season, Heyward should have several more productive years in his future. Already named the best No. 31 pick in our project last summer, Heyward should have every opportunity to solidify that standing in the future.”
To rank above a defensive lineman already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame that was drafted in the same slot as Heyward is pretty impressive, and shows just how highly regarded Heyward is overall around the league and through the national media.
At 33 years old, Heyward continues to defy Father Time and gets better each and every season, which is truly remarkable. He’s really come on strong in the last five years or so, developing into arguably the best defensive lineman in the NFL today, which is high praise overall, especially in the same league as Los Angeles Rams star Aaron Donald.
Though his career numbers are don’t quite compare to some of the defensive linemen that have come before him, largely due to scheme and usage early in his career, Heyward is on a Hall of Fame trajectory, considering he already has the number of All-Pro accolades to obtain the average Hall of Fame defensive end metrics from Pro Football Reference’s Hall of Fame Monitor.
Heyward needs just two more Pro Bowls, which feels like a lock, and could really use a Super Bowl championship to cap off his incredible career that should see him wind up in the hallowed halls of Canton in the future.