Perhaps one of the best value draft picks for Pittsburgh Steelers former GM Kevin Colbert, a 31st overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft in Cam Heyward who has racked up three first team All-Pro nods, five Pro-Bowls, and perhaps most importantly has become the leader in the Steelers locker room
Heyward stepped into a team that had come off a Super Bowl berth, and a defensive line room with seasoned veterans in Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, among others. As such, Heyward was initially taken under their wing, which he cited in a recent interview as especially helpful in his career trajectory.
Having recently started his Not Just Football with Cam Heyward podcast, he had on former teammate and 12-year Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel. In doing so, the two former teammates discussed the start of Heyward’s career.
“Well, I remember when we drafted him, I was watching the draft Coach Tomlin kept telling me for years that I was leaking oil,” Keisel recalled on the podcast. “So I kinda figured that someone was gonna be getting a high pick to maybe replace me. And you know, they picked Cam and, and he came into training camp and my first impressions were that this, this guy’s really big. He’s really strong. He’s really physical.”
A 2002 draft pick, Keisel was a nine-year veteran at the time of Heyward’s drafting, and was indeed past his prime. Keisel’s initial impression of Heyward certainly proved accurate of his career trajectory, as Heyward went on to utilize his stature to become widely regarded as among the elite defensive lineman in the league. Keisel went on to describe his mentors upon entering the league.
“Yeah, so I was fortunate to have Aaron Smith and Kimo von Oelhoffen and they were the two starting defensive ends, I was a little bit shocked coming into a professional environment that these guys would help me, because essentially I’m vying for their job and I’m trying to work my way into any type of rotation,” Keisel answered in the interview. “I think that’s something that’s really unique about Pittsburgh, the veterans help the younger guys and they try and teach ’em the Steeler way and teach. “
The Steelers organization has long built through the draft rather than through free agency or blockbuster trades, relying on the mentorship that Keisel describes to develop young players. This strategy seeks to make the most of driven players such as Keisel. Indeed, Keisel began as a seventh-round pick, and went on to accomplish the rare feat of having a 12-year career, playing alongside his mentors and winning two Super Bowls.
Much like Keisel, Heyward is following the same career trajectory in mentoring young players in the DL room much like he was mentored himself. Heyward has had the opportunity to mentor the likes of Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave, Chris Wormley, Isaiahh Loudermilk, and will have the opportunity to mentor third-round defensive end Demarvin Leal. Given his high regard for his veteran mentors, it’s no doubt that Heyward is more than willing and happy to take the mentorship role for the remainder of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.