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Earning Some Respect, Steelers’ Cameron Heyward Cracks Top 20 Of PFF50

Finally, Cameron Heyward is starting to get some respect from national outlets.

After recently ranking fifth overall in ESPN’s position player rankings survey, Heyward was rightfully miffed at the overall disrespect from coaches, executives and fellow players, who somehow dropped him down a spot in the rankings after having one of the best seasons of his career.

On Thursday, some of that respect was restored as Pro Football Focus’s Sam Monson ranked the Pittsburgh Steelers’ star defensive lineman as the No. 19 overall player in the NFL in the offseason PFF50, which is a list of the best 50 players in the NFL entering the 2022 season using PFF’s grades and wins above replacement (WAR) metric.

Though he still ranks behind Kansas City’s Chris Jones in the series (Jones came in at No. 15 Thursday), Heyward is one of just three interior defensive linemen inside the top 50 to date, with No. 10-1 expected to be revealed Friday. The only other interior defensive lineman in the top 50 is Tampa Bay’s Vita Vea, which feels just about right.

“Playing on the interior of the defensive line in today’s NFL leads to the unwinnable comparisons to Aaron Donald, but Heyward is consistently in the battle for the best non-Donald performances in the league,” Monson writes regarding Heyward’s ranking at No. 19 overall. “Last season, he was the only other interior player who posted a 90.0-plus grade, and he notched 61 pressures as he continues to play his best football deep into his career. Heyward has recorded at least 60 pressures for three straight seasons.”

As Heyward said last week on his new ESPN podcast with Omaha Productions, it’s Donald at 1A, and himself at 1A, making two 1A’s. That might not make much sense overall, but Heyward has supreme confidence in himself, his abilities and the dominance he displays on the field week after week.

Generally, PFF seems to agree more with Heyward than the rest of the national media. Though ESPN’s survey certainly slighted Heyward, he’s consistently ranked around No. 2 or No. 3 this offseason on the interior of the defensive line, at least from CBS Sports and Pro Football Focus, this offseason.

In the end, rankings mean very little. The Steelers have an absolute superstar on the interior defensive line in Heyward. Everybody in and around the black and gold knows it when it comes to their defensive captain. He’s entering the 2022 season with a sizable chip on his shoulder, which will be hard for opponents to deal with on a week-to-week basis.

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