When people are asked about the Pittsburgh Steelers defense and their resurgence in the 2019 season, several players come to mind. T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Devin Bush seem to be the future of the Steelers defense. But one player who has been holding things down for a while, sometimes to minimal fanfare, is captain Cameron Heyward.
Heyward has somewhat quietly become a premier defender in the NFL and fits into some elite and rare company over the last three seasons. When it comes to the defensive side of the ball, it is a very elite group of players who have earned both Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors since 2017. Here is the breakdown of players who Cam Heyward fits into similar categories:
3 straight Pro Bowl selections
Since the 2017 season, there have been 14 defensive players who have made the Pro Bowl each of the last three years. Along with Heyward, the players who were among the elite group are Geno Atkins, Calais Campbell, Jurrell Casey, Fletcher Cox, Aaron Donald, Cameron Jordan, Luke Kuechly, Khalil Mack, Von Miller, Jalen Ramsey, Darius Slay, Harrison Smith, and Bobby Wagner. From the group, Luke Kuechly has the most consecutive Pro Bowl selections with seven but has announced his retirement recently. Geno Atkins, Von Miller, and Bobby Wagner have six consecutive Pro Bowls while Jurrell Casey, Fletcher Cox, Khalil Mack, and Harrison Smith now have five straight Pro Bowl selections.
When it comes to Cam Heyward, he may have had even more Pro Bowls had he been classified as a defensive tackle prior to 2018. Earlier in his career, Heyward was listed as a defensive end and therefore compared to players who were edge rushers in a 4-3 defense. Although he may have been selected more, Heyward would have most likely not had a longer current streak because in 2016 he only played in seven games due to injury.
Regardless, Heyward is part of a club of Pro Bowl players on defense who are represented by less than half of the NFL teams.
2 First Team All-Pro Selections in the last 3 seasons
An even smaller and more elite class would be the number of players who have had multiple AP First Team All-Pro selections over the last three seasons. On defense, there has only been six players who fit into this category. Aaron Donald and Bobby Wagner have both been All-Pro all three of the last NFL seasons. Cam Heyward is joined by Stephon Gilmore, Chandler Jones, and Luke Kuechly as the players who have made AP First Team All-Pro twice the last three years. With Gilmore and Jones not being on the list of three straight Pro Bowl appearances, only four players are members of both groups.
Whether it is due to injury or a dip in production, it is difficult for players to continue to earn Pro Bowl and, especially, All-Pro honors. Cameron Heyward has shown he is not just a leader in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ locker room, but also is well-respected around the league and has been earning the honors he rightfully deserves. If Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the standard for greatness at the position, Cam Hayward is closer than anyone else in the NFL. With Hayward going into the last year of his contract in 2020, look for the Steelers to do all that they can to keep their defensive captain long term.