by J.T. Toth
Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have had an embarrassment of superstars over the past 90 years. From Terry Bradshaw to Ben Roethlisberger, Donnie Shell to Troy Polamalu, Jack Lambert to T.J. Watt, these current and future Hall of Famers have graced our Sunday TV screens in Pittsburgh for nearly a century. But one Steeler entering his 13th season is often taken for granted and not mentioned in the same breath as others. But he deserves our accolades and recognition.
In the 2011 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected defensive end Cam Heyward from Ohio State with their first round draft pick, 31st overall. Most people in Pittsburgh knew more about Cameron’s father— Craig “Ironhead” Heyward—who starred at the University of Pittsburgh. Ironhead was a reckless, bowling ball of a runner for the Panthers and later played 11 seasons in the NFL.
In his first two seasons as a Steeler, Heyward played in all 32 games as a backup to Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel and still tallied 31 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Hood signed a large free agent contract with Jacksonville before the 2013 season and Heyward became the starting defensive end, never looking back.
Heyward has been the one piece of the defensive line the Steelers could count on. He played and started 137 out of 151 games since 2013, primarily in the unheralded role of 3-4 defensive end in the Blitzburgh defense. He consistently took on and beats double teams, toiling in the trenches to help others rack up the tackles, get to the quarterback or make big plays. And yet he still has 20.5 sacks over the past two seasons. Though not as flashy as T.J. Watt, there is no doubt that Heyward is the heart and soul of the Steelers' defense.
Heyward (78.5) and Watt (77.5) are 2nd and 3rd respectively on the all-time Steelers sack list, only behind James Harrison’s 80.5 sacks. Heyward, though, does more than just sack the quarterback. He is one of the best run stopping defensive linemen in football. Even at age 34, Heyward is still a top 5 graded player from PFF.
In a town where superstars seem to show up as often as coleslaw on our sandwiches, let's not overlook the one wearing #97. Whether you believe it or not, Cam Heyward deserves to be mentioned as a bona fide superstar and one that will be remembered in the Steelers' Ring of Honor, if not in Canton, for years to come.