With the 2022 new league year, the questions will be plenty for quite a while, even as the Pittsburgh Steelers spend cash and cap space and use draft picks in an effort to find answers. We don’t know who the quarterback is going to be yet—even if we have a good idea. How will the offensive line be formulated? How will the secondary develop amid changes, including to the coaching staff? What does Teryl Austin bring to the table—and Brian Flores? What will Matt Canada’s offense look like absent Ben Roethlisberger?
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: Cameron Heyward is the second-best defensive lineman in Steelers history.
Explanation: Joe Greene is quite obviously the first, and he holds a position that very likely will never be dethroned. Even if his own play is ever somehow usurped by another player, the sheer impact he had on the organization is unmatched. But Cameron Heyward comes the closest anyone else ever had to equaling his play on the field—or at least he has a great case for it.
Just look at the numbers. 68 sacks, with two 10-sack seasons or better. 42 passes defensed, and even a couple of interceptions. 540 tackles. 101 tackles for loss. 153 quarterback hits. Nobody has brought pressure like Heyward has for this defense since Greene.
You just watch him on tape dominate people. A lot of times he doesn’t even get the stats the he creates for his teammates. The only other jersey the Steelers have retired besides Joe Greene is Ernie Stautner. But he played on four winning teams in his 14-year career, most of it toward the end of his career. It’s hard to say he had much impact when they were mostly losing during his time.
Stautner’s Steelers may not have won, but really, have Heyward’s? Certainly not much in the playoffs. They’ve won three postseason games since he was drafted, and he was injured for two of them. And he played an entire season on a unit that was the worst in the league against the run just last year. So if we can knock Stautner for lack of team success, the same can be said for Heyward. Stautner’s biggest obstacle is simply the lack of historical knowledge about just how damn good he was. But the fact that they retired his number should suffice.
Then there’s Greene’s Steel Curtain partner, L.C. Greenwood, who should be in the Hall of Fame. And there’s Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton, who actually led championship defenses, whose trenches defined games. Smith was the prototypical 3-4 end and he still was a successful pass-rusher within the much stricter confines of Dick LeBeau’s system. If he were playing in the freeer defense of today, he would be putting up Heyward’s pass-rush numbers too.
And because Alex would come after me if I didn’t mention him, there’s always Big Daddy Lipscomb, even though he only played two years here. But he was still damn good when he did. According to Pro Football Reference’s research, he had 17.5 sacks in 1961, before sacks were sacks, which would have been the team record up until…2021.