The folks at CBS Sports recently resolved to try to identify the best players ever selected among each of the first 32 picks in the NFL Draft. Lo and behold, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward has been named the best-ever player drafted No. 31 overall, coming out ahead of two players who have already been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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Five or five years ago, Heyward would not have been a part of the conversation, but he has undeniably been getting better and better with age. It wasn’t until 2017 when Heyward was named to the Pro Bowl (and first-team All-Pro) for the first time, as per Pro Football Reference. He has since been named to the Pro Bowl four more times, winning All-Pro honors twice more, including in 2021.
Last year Pro Football Focus rated Heyward as the second best interior defensive lineman in the NFL, behind three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.
That’s good news for the Steelers, who have Heyward under contract through 2024, having signed him to a five-year extension in September 2020.
What Are Cam Heyward’s Chances of Becoming a Hall of Famer?
Heyward, who will turn 33 on May 6, figures to need more in the way of Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors to have a realistic chance at the Hall of Fame, at least if the Pro Football Reference Hall of Fame Monitor (HOFm) is any indication.
The HOFm gives Heyward a score of 56.93, while the score of an average Hall of Fame defensive end is 104. On the plus side, there are three players at his position with lower scores who are already in the Hall, yet they retired in 1985 or earlier. The next closest Hall of Famers above him are Charles Haley (63.05) and Richard Dent (64.4), who retired in 1999 and 1997, respectively.
Heyward was drafted by the Steelers in 2011 out of Ohio State. To date he has appeared in 166 games with 131 starts. During that time, he has been part of 540 tackles (340 solo), including 101 tackles for loss, 68 sacks, 153 quarterback hits, plus 42 passes defensed, two interceptions, seven forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries.
Cam’s younger brother, Connor Heyward, has a chance to get drafted later this month, having played his college football at Michigan State.
Best of the Rest at No. 31 Overall
As for the four other players who made CBS Sports’ Top 5 at No. 31 overall, those would be:
5. Tight end Greg Olsen, who was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2007.
4. Center Travis Frederick, who was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 2013.
3. Flanker Tommy McDonald, who was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1957 (in what was then the third round). McDonald was enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 1998.
2. Defensive tackle Curley Culp, who was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1968 in what was then the second round. Culp was enshrined in Canton with the Class of 2013.
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