Scenario: Steelers' defensive lineman Cam Heyward will record eight sacks in 2014.
Why it will happen: Cam Heyward is finally showing why the Steelers selected him in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of Ohio State. Heyward proved in 2013 he is more than capable of being a dominant player and finally got his chance to shine.
Taking advantage of a Brett Keisel injury, Heyward inserted himself into the starting lineup and never relinquished that role on his way to a 5 sack, 35 total tackle season. Not too bad for a player splitting time with Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Al Woods and even Steve McLendon, but the most impressive aspect of Heyward's game was how he managed those sacks.
Heyward was the most disruptive defensive lineman the Steelers had seen since Aaron Smith patrolled the line of scrimmage in his prime. Heyward was moving the line of scrimmage, but most importantly, was showing the ability to get to the quarterback.
In 2014, Heyward should be expected to take the next step forward in his career progression by getting after the quarterback early and often. Heyward taking down opposing quarterbacks eight times is not out of the ordinary and certainly within the realm of possibility with Heyward finally settling into the pro game along side a defensive line that looks poised to bounce back from a disappointing 2013 season.
Why it won't happen: Heyward's linemates aren't really players that have shown the ability to take pressure off of Heyward and take away double teams. On top of the lack of pedigree along the line, there is a lot of question about the new players that are now in the lineup along the defensive line of scrimmage
Gone are experienced veterans Ziggy Hood, Brett Keisel and Al Woods, and inserted are free agent pickup Cam Thomas and rookie Stephon Tuitt. Not really a star studded line that can help free Heyward to get after the quarteraback. Even though there is still a chance that Keisel could return to add veteran depth and leadership along the line, there is no guarantee his return is eminent.
With Heyward drawing nearly every double team from opposing offensive lines, Heyward's sack totals could be effected in the wrong way in 2014.
Keys: As everyone reading this knows, football is the ultimate team game. For Heyward to actually register eight sacks in 2014, he will need help from his teammates to achieve that. The secondary providing the quarterback nowhere to throw the football, the outside linebackers to push the quarterback up into the pocket and the other defensive linemen wreaking havoc in the trenches.
Heyward has the skill, athleticism and explosiveness to be considered a top tier defensive lineman in the league, not it's time for him to prove it by upping his sack total in 2014.