Since entering the starting lineup in his second season, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward has consistently been one of the most underrated players at his position. Not that it has been much of a secret. At some point during seemingly every primetime game or another, it’s a fact mention during the broadcast.
Perhaps it’s time the league stops underrating and giving him the recognition to which he is entitled. At the moment, his seven sacks are tied with all players for the 15th-most in the NFL. That ranks as the second-most sacks among 3-4 defensive linemen in the NFL, and the most in the AFC, behind only Cameron Jordan of the Saints, who was drafted in the same class in the first round. Akiem Hicks of the Bears also has seven sacks.
But seven sacks is a significant number for Heyward. He has recorded at least that many in each of the past three seasons during which he has been healthy. his career high is 7.5, so his next sack, assuming it is a full one, will set a career high, and would be the most by a Steelers defensive lineman in over a decade, since Aaron Smith had eight in 2004.
The truth of the matter is that the seventh-year veteran, coming off an injury-plagued season in 2016, is having arguably his best season ever, and certainly his best as a pass-rusher through 10 games. Right now, he is on pace to finish as the first defensive lineman for the Steelers since the mid-80s—and the second ever—with 10 or more sacks.
It’s time for Heyward to make the damn Pro Bowl.
His teammates want it for him. His coaches want it for him. if you twist his arm enough, even he will admit that he wants it. “I’d love to be recognized for it”, he told Chris Adamski. “Recognized from my peers, my coaches, coaches and players around the league, and the fans. It’s something that I strive for”.
He also admits that it’s a difficult and frustrating task for him as a 3-4 defensive end because of the way that the NFL organizes its Pro-Bowl voting, grouping both 3-4 and 4-3 ends together, while a 3-4 end is more akin to a 4-3 tackle than end.
That is even more so the case in today’s NFL, and today’s Steelers defense, whose base package is now the nickel, where Heyward really is playing truly a 4-3 defensive tackle position as one of two down linemen bookended by their outside linebackers serving as the edge defenders.
“I wanted to make sure I made up for lost time”, he said of this season coming off of an injury-shortened seven-game year in 2016. “I appreciate every game and every play because it can be taken away from you that quickly. And I’m just trying to make the most out of every play”.
Heyward has been a ‘Pro Bowl-caliber’ for at least a few years now, but he may never go into the voting with a better showing than he has so far this year. He is deserving of being recognized for his production this season. If you want to help make it happen, you can be sure to vote for him here.