An ideal football world for the Pittsburgh Steelers involves their drafting the eventual successors for key starters while those starters still remain and are effective and can show the rookie the ropes. Rarely has that worked out as well as when they drafted Cameron Heyward in the first round in 2011.
On pace to surpass the franchise record for sacks (unless T.J. Watt gets there first), Heyward has had a stellar career, even if it involved him spending a lot of time on the bench early on. That was thanks in part to the play of Brett Keisel, who like Heyward now, proved to be effective even into his early-mid-30s.
Their careers overlapped for four seasons, but Da Beard I’m sure has never been far. Yesterday on 93.7 The Fan, he made it clear he’s been watching Heyward these past many years, telling host Andrew Fillipponi that he is “a huge fan of 97”. And then some.
“I have no doubt he’s a Hall of Famer. There hasn’t been anyone in the past seven, eight years that’s gone into the Hall of Fame that’s blocked him consistently”, he said, “and that’s always been my argument with Deebo [James Harrison]. Flip the tape on with any Hall of Famer that goes in and show me some guy that blocks him consistently. It’s not there”.
In other words, what Keisel is saying is that if you look at the tape of Heyward going up against the best offensive linemen of his era, you’re not going to find him coming up with the short straw very often. He’ll get his wins, like he has against the likes of Marshal Yanda and Quenton Nelson. And it’s something he’s been doing for quite a while now.
“That’s what Cam’s been really for the past decade. He’s consistent, he’s dominant. He’s a force”, Keisel said. “He’s just a wrecking crew and one of those guys you really have a hard time blocking. You constantly have to have two guys on him or he’s gonna win if he’s single-blocked”.
Heyward has made the Pro Bowl in each of the past six seasons, albeit as an alternate in 2022. Up until last season, he was also on a five-year streak of making the All-Pro List, whether as first- or second-team defensive lineman.
Yet his dip in recognition this past season was not reflective of his performance, putting up similar numbers as he did the year before when he was named a first-team All-Pro. He finished with 10.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 23 quarterback hits, four batted passes, and a forced fumble.
Still, one gets the sense that he’s still got work to do, whether fairly or not, to solidify his argument for the Hall of Fame. Though less true than in the past, he still plays a somewhat less glamorous position at which he has to compete with players from other teams who are put in more playmaking positions, so recognition has always been an uphill battle.