Somehow, despite coming off a dominant season in 2021 that saw him record 10.0 sacks and earn yet another First Team All-Pro accolade and a fifth straight trip to the Pro Bowl, Pittsburgh Steelers’ star defensive lineman Cameron Heyward continues to be slighted nationally.
One day after Steelers’ star outside linebacker T.J. Watt got the respect he deserves in ESPN’s executives, coaches and players survey ranking the top 10 players at each position, Heyward was slighted significantly in the interior pass rushers and run stoppers rankings, placing fifth overall.
That ranking saw Heyward drop one spot from his No. 4 ranking last season. Somehow, Heyward got better, but dropped a spot. Make it make sense, please.
Throughout the offseason, Heyward has consistently ranked No. 2 behind Los Angeles Rams’ star Aaron Donald in the positional rankings. Yet on Wednesday morning, ESPN’s survey results had the Steelers’ face of the franchise behind Donald, Tennessee Titans’ defensive lineman Jeffrey Simmons, Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive tackle Chris Jones, and Indianapolis Colts’ defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.
The highest placement Heyward had in the survey — which had more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players to help ESPN stack the top 10 players at 11 different positions, from edge rusher to interior offensive lineman — was third overall. The lowest Heyward was ranked was shockingly out of the top 10.
I’d love to know whose ballot had Heyward outside of the top 10 at the position.
At 33 years old, Heyward is the elder statesman in the top 10 of the survey, with Donald being the only other 30+ player ranked in the top 10. Still, much like Donald, there’s no signs of slowing down from Heyward, who gets better and better with age.
“Look at his numbers and watch him — there’s no decline at all,” an NFL scouting director said in the ESPN survey.
“I still really like Cam Heyward as a top guy,” a separate NFC exec said in the ESPN survey. “He’s just got a power to his game where, when he gets his hands on you, he can drive you back. And he plays his ass off.”
There is no decline, and he plays his tail off — and does so at an extremely high level. That’s why it’s shocking to see the Steelers’ star defender ranked so low in the positional rankings in the survey.
Simmons, Jones and Buckner are all great in their own right, but none are as productive or disruptive as Heyward is on a weekly basis. It’s not just as an interior pass rusher either. According to Pro Football Focus, Heyward graded out at an 89.8 (elite) as a run defender in 2021, adding to his 85.8 pass rush grade, good for an elite-level grade of 91.0 at the position, grading out as the No. 2 interior defender behind Donald in PFF’s metrics.
For comparison’s sake, Jones placed fifth last season in PFF’s grades, while Simmons was 21st and Buckner was 22nd.
In certain instances, you have to question the thought process and the general knowledge some around the game have when it comes to player evaluation. This is one of those instances.