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Muhammad Wilkerson was a potential target for the Steelers in the 2011 NFL Draft

As the Jets sniped Wilkerson one spot ahead of the Steelers in 2011, the Steelers selected Cameron Heyward, who will make his first start Sunday against the Jets. Wilkerson has started, and dominated, plenty of games in his career.


The Steelers will give defensive end Cam Heyward his first career start in Week 6 against the New York Jets. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said this week it was simply because he needs to get more snaps. It's a fair point. Heyward's been one of the few impact defensive players through a brutal 0-4 streak that's resulted in four sacks and no takeaways.

We'll probably never know if the Steelers would have taken Wilkerson had he fallen one more spot in the 2011 NFL Draft. The Jets, drafting 30th, scooped up Wilkerson one spot before the Steelers took Heyward.

Pre-draft speculation borders on cosmic in size, but both Heyward and Wilkerson were thought to be linked with the Steelers. Wilkerson, a big-bodied 3-4 prototype, he could have played nose or end in Dick LeBeau's defense. The Steelers liked them some Ohio State players back in those days, so perhaps the legend would suggest Heyward would have gone to Pittsburgh even if Wilkerson would have been available.

It'd be extremely hard to argue now, though, knowing what they know now and doing it all again, Wilkerson wouldn't be anywhere near the 30th pick. Heyward probably wouldn't, either, but in the opposite direction.

It's funny how that works out.

The Jets sniped a potential Steelers player one pick from them previously, too. They traded up with Carolina to the No. 14 overall pick to grab Pitt cornerback Darrelle Revis in 2007. The Steelers then selected Lawrence Timmons - although it's been rumored Revis was their guy had Carolina not made that trade.

Also, the Jets backed out of a deal with the Steelers for the 16th pick of the 2012 Draft. Terms were never mentioned specifically, but the Steelers had their eye on Stanford guard David DeCastro, and were willing to part with a third round pick and more to move up for him. The Jets saw Seattle nab defensive end Bruce Irvin, and decided they didn't want to risk missing the pass rusher they wanted so badly, so they nixed the deal, and selected North Carolina's Quinton Coples at 16.

The Steelers probably forgave them for it, considering DeCastro fell to 24 anyway. Both players are off to reasonable starts to their careers.

The gap between Wilkerson and Heyward, though, is significant. Wilkerson is one of the most versatile defensive linemen in the league, and Heyward's two passes batted down are considered big steps forward for him.

Perhaps this is the start of Heyward's second wind; he'll turn into the lightning-quick, 300-pound monster Wilkerson is. It may not have taken Wilkerson long to become an impact player, but Heyward is at least pointed in that direction now.

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