The Pittsburgh Steelers has always been known for defense. The overall unit might not always provide the spark fans expect, but the players who wear the black and gold are consistently a prideful group.
Pittsburgh’s current defense has several players who can fit the bill, and their leader is Cameron Heyward. The All-Pro defensive lineman is someone who expects the best out of himself, as well as his teammates. You can also add in how he expects the best out of the national sports media after ESPN released their defensive linemen rankings.
Before we get to the Top 10, and Heyward’s ranking, here is a breakdown on how Jeremy Fowler put together the rankings:
Here’s how our process worked: Voters gave us their best 10 players at a position, then we compiled the results and ranked candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, hundreds of interviews, research and film-study help from ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen. In total, more than 50 voters submitted a ballot on at least one position, and in many cases all positions. We had several ties, so we broke them with the help of additional voting and follow-up calls with our rankers. Each section is packed with quotes and nuggets from the voters on every guy — even the honorable mentions.
The objective is to identify the best players right now for 2022. This is not a five-year projection or an achievement award. Who are the best players today? Pretty simple.
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get to the rankings:
The Top 10
1. Aaron Donald — Los Angeles Rams
2. Jeffery Simmons — Tennessee Titans
3. Chris Jones — Kansas City Chiefs
4. DeForest Buckner — Indianapolis Colts
5. Cameron Heyward — Pittsburgh Steelers
Highest ranking: 3 | Lowest ranking: Out of top 10
Age: 33 | Last year’s ranking: 4
Heyward’s early-30s trajectory has been impressive.
“Look at his numbers and watch him — there’s no decline at all,” an NFL scouting director said.
Heyward, who turned 33 in May, put together one of his best performances in Year 11 with 10 sacks, 89 tackles and 15 tackles for loss on his way to first-team All-Pro status and a fifth consecutive Pro Bowl.
“I still really like Cam Heyward as a top guy,” a separate NFC exec said. “He’s just got a power to his game where, when he gets his hands on you, he can drive you back. And he plays his ass off.”
Heyward might have a post-playing career in volleyball after recording 16 passes defended (passes either batted or deflected), the highest total among this group. And he did it without recently retired lineman Stephon Tuitt, who missed all of last season, by his side.
6. Kenny Clark — Green Bay Packers
7. Vita Vea — Tampa Bay Buccaneers
8. Arik Armstead — San Francisco 49ers
9. Grady Jarrett — Atlanta Falcons
10. Jonathan Allen — Washington Commanders
Of course, Steelers fans were upset with Heyward being ranked 5th in the league at his position, but so was Heyward himself. Following the release of the rankings, Heyward took to Twitter with a simple message.
July 6, 2022
On top of that, Heyward even tweeted at the author of the list, Jeremy Fowler, to let him know he wasn’t thrilled with the results.
I respect my peers but this list ain’t right— Cam Heyward (@CamHeyward) July 6, 2022
There will be some fans who think Heyward should just be quiet and go about his work. Nonetheless, I think it’s safe to say someone like Heyward will use this list, and his frustration with the list, as motivation for the 2022 season. In that respect, ESPN ranking Heyward 5th overall could be a blessing in disguise.
But what do you think about the list? Also, what do you think about Heyward’s public reaction to the rankings? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the team to report to training camp at Saint Vincent College on July 26th.