There was a time when Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward had to fight for playing time behind veteran studs. But now the 28-year-old is having a fantastic season alongside Pittsburgh defense that's improving every week.
Here's what TribLive wrote on the Steelers lockerroom, who all seem to be pushing for Heyward to make the Pro Bowl:
"Cam Heyward for Pro Bowl!” a teammate yelled as he walked past Heyward's locker after the Steelers' win against the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night. Heyward couldn't suppress a sheepish smile.
But that was far from the only teammate expressing such a sentiment in the wake of Heyward's two-sack game that helped fuel a dominant 40-17 victory.
“We need to get him (to the Pro Bowl),” fellow defensive end Stephon Tuitt said.
“He should be a Pro Bowler,” said linebacker Bud Dupree. “Absolutely.”
“Yes, I'd love to be recognized for it,” Heyward said. “Recognized from my peers, my coaches, coaches and players around the league, and the fans. It's something that I strive for.”
Heyward's path to a Pro Bowl roster spot is difficult because of the position he plays (3-4 defensive end), so earning such recognition would be all the more gratifying, wrote TribLive.
Sacks traditionally take a disproportionate weight in recognizing the NFL's top front-seven defensive players. And because he's classified as a defensive end, Heyward is compared to those smaller 4-3 ends who get more opportunity to rush quarterbacks.
“He's like a D-tackle,” Dupree said. “D-ends, some of those guys, they're linebackers, and they've already got double-digit (sacks).”
Of the 10 NFL players with more sacks than Heyward's seven, three are listed as linebackers, and the other seven are ends playing for 4-3 teams.
“It's tough because we play so much of subpackage (nickel) that I almost am a D-tackle,” Heyward told TribLive. “Sometimes you want to be looked at as a D-tackle, especially when I'm going up against outside linebackers that are at a D-end spot (in balloting). But that's just the cards we're dealt.”
Pro Football Focus grants Heyward his wish and classifies him as an “interior defender” and considers him the 10th-best such player in the NFL, third-best among AFC players. Heyward is the Steelers' highest-rated defensive player by PFF, edging Tuitt and linebacker Ryan Shazier. Only Antonio Brown and David DeCastro have higher grades on the team.
While run-stuffing is considered his strength, Heyward leads the Steelers in sacks and has six in his past seven games. According to NFL Next Gen Stats researcher Ethan Young, Heyward's “pressure rate” (when rushing the passer) of 13.8 percent is the seventh-best in the league for an interior defensive lineman.
Heyward, a former first-round pick in 2011 (31st), has never earned Pro Bowl in six seasons.