If his recent appearance on the Mina Kimes Show is any indication, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward figures to have a career in sports media when his playing career comes to an end. He was both engaging and provocative throughout the hour-long interview, during which he revealed how and why he almost came to blows with then-teammate Ryan Clark in 2013.
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NFL’s Best Defensive Lineman a 2-Man Conversation?
Not surprisingly, Aaron Donald’s name came up during the course of the back-and-forth. Donald is the Los Angeles Rams’ 3x AP Defensive Player of Year (2017-18, 2020), who is widely regarded as the single-best defensive lineman in the NFL — if not the best player in the league.
“I feel like people put Aaron Donald on this mountain,” said Kimes, before asking Heyward how he feels about the way he’s perceived relative to the other top defensive linemen.
“Yeah, it pisses me off,” he began. “I think I’m one (of) if not the most complete player at my position. I know Aaron is a really talented guy but don’t just shy away and say it’s Aaron Donald and everybody else. S***, it’s Cam and Aaron and everybody else.”
Asked to elaborate about who might be considered everybody else, Kimes got the conversation started by naming Grady Garrett (Atlanta Falcons) and Jeffery Simmons (Tennessee Titans), and then Heyward specifically mentioned Chris Jones (Kansas City Chiefs) and DeForest Buckner (Indianapolis Colts).
As for the notion that it’s “Cam and Aaron and everybody else,” Heyward has a pretty good argument. Donald and Heyward were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 at their position by Pro Football Focus (PFF) last season, and their 93.5 and 90.8 grades were well above those of their next closest competitors, those being Zach Siegler (Miami Dolphins) and Jonathan Allen (Washington Commanders), both of whom registered 84.9 grades.
PFF also endorses the idea that Heyward is the most complete interior defender behind Donald.
“It’s difficult to find many faults in (Heyward’s) overall game, with him posting both run-defense and pass-rush grades above 89.0 since 2017,” wrote Ben Linsey in the summer of last year.
And in August 2020, Sam Monson of PFF said: “The crown as the best non-Donald interior defender is a tough one to claim definitively, but in 2019 it belonged to Heyward. Consistently an excellent player, he had a career year for Pittsburgh when they needed to lean on him more than usual with his running mate Stephon Tuitt going down hurt,” added Monson. That’s something the Steelers had to do even more in 2021, as Tuitt missed the entire season and has since announced his retirement.
Then on June 1, 2022, Linsey rated Heyward No. 2 at his position behind Donald, giving him the nod ahead of Chris Jones because Heyward is a better run defender than Jones, with DeForest Bucker and Grady Jarrett rounding out the Top 5.
Cam Heyward Wants to Play 5 More Seasons
Speaking of age, Heyward also told Kimes he hopes to play longer than all the other players in his draft class (2011).
“Every time I see one of the guys from my draft retire, I’m like, ‘That’s a check off my list.’ My goal is to outlast all of them at 38 years old,” he said. That would mean five more years for the Ohio State product, which would take him two years beyond the contract extension he signed in September 2020, which binds him to the Steelers through 2024.
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The Steelers selected Heyward with the next-to-last pick in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. In April 2022, CBS Sports named him the best player ever drafted No. 31 overall.
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