Aaron Donald is the greatest defensive lineman in the NFL right now, and really, one of the greatest players to ever play the game. Right? No argument there, all around. He’s a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, a feat that has never been bested, and some argue he should have at least four, if the league weren’t tired of giving him the award.
Not do fast, says Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, who recently spoke at length with Mina Kimes on her eponymous podcast. He was asked how he feels about the perception that Donald is in a class of his own and then it’s everybody else.
“It pisses me off, hands down”, he said. “I think I’m one of, it not the most complete player at my position. I know Aaron is a really talented guy, but don’t just shy away and say, ‘Oh, it’s Aaron Donald and everybody else’. Shit, It’s Cam, and Aaron, and everybody else”.
Heyward, now 33, is certainly decorated, and has not gone without recognition. He has made five consecutive Pro Bowls and four total (three consecutive) All-Pro teams, including three first-team selections, most recently in 2021.
Indeed, he has one of the best seasons of his career last year, posting 10 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, an interception, and nine batted passes. He also had a forced fumble and posted a career-high with 89 total tackles, while retaining a high tackling efficiency.
Heyward does get a lot of credit, and he is paid rather well, but yet it does seem that he often enough doesn’t quite get his due. Pro Football Focus has actually been arguably his biggest and most consistent champion, acknowledging him as one of the very, very best defensive players in all of football.
Still, he’s certainly not dismissive of the other talent in the league, even if he said that line about it being himself, Donald, and everybody else. He acknowledged other talents, as well. “Chris Jones, DeForest Buckner. I thought Justin [Simmons] had a really good year. I think Justin is just starting to enter this”, he said.
With 540 tackles and 68 sacks over 11 seasons, he has certainly offered both production and longevity, but it’s still remarkable how much of his success has come in the second half of his career. Since 2017, the year after he missed significant time due to injury, he has totaled 322 tackles with 43 sacks, five forced fumbles, two interceptions, 24 batted passes, 49 tackles for loss, and 99 quarterback hits.
The only statistics Heyward is still missing: a touchdown; a safety; and a Super Bowl trophy. But there’s nothing he can do more in an effort to achieve that last objective than trying to be the best player in the entire league.