Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward “doesn’t like to say positive things about himself, but at the same time he very clearly expects to be recognized,” noted co-host Dejan Kovacevic during the July 6 edition of DK Sports’ Ramon Foster Show. So it’s perhaps no surprise that Heyward took to social media on Wednesday to react to the results of a new ESPN survey that has him ranked fifth among all NFL defensive tackles, behind Aaron Donald (Rams), Jeffrey Simmons (Titans), Chris Jones (Chiefs) and DeForest Buckner (Colts).
Heyward had no words for his drop in the rankings (from fourth in 2021 to fifth this year). He simply tweeted out a “warning” to the NFL world at-large.
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Why Cam Heyward Reacted to the Perceived Slight
The results of the survey may be particularly galling to Heyward for a couple different reasons.
First, it’s not the opinion of one individual NFL observer. To get the results, ESPN surveyed “more than 50” NFL executives, coaches and players to compile a list of the Top 10 players at each of 11 different positions.
Second, Heyward is coming off arguably the best season of his NFL career, one in which he recorded 89 tackles (53 solo), including 15 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and 17 quarterback hits, not to mention an interception, nine passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, as per Pro Football Reference. That effort earned him first-team All-Pro honors for the third time in the past five years, all of which have been Pro Bowl seasons.
Never mind that the results of the poll didn’t really disrespect Heyward.
“Look at his numbers and watch him. There is no decline at all,” said one NFL scouting director.
ESPN also quoted another NFL executive as saying, “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.”
Still, it’s clear that Heyward plans to use the results of the survey as motivation.
During a podcast interview in late May, Heyward said he feels like he’s right there with Aaron Donald at the top of the NFL defensive tackle mountaintop. “It’s Cam and Aaron and everybody else,” he told ESPN’s Mina Kimes at the time.
“Cam gets righteously indignant when he feels slighted,” said Kovacevic during The Ramon Foster Show.
“That’s why coaches harp so much on (not giving opponents) any (bulletin-board) material. Shut up. Don’t say a thing. Give them nothing,” chimed in Foster, who agrees that his former teammate will use the slight as motivation.
Pro Football Focus Grades Support Cam Heyward’s Argument
For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus’ grades bolster Heyward’s position, as Donald and Heyward were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 at their position by PFF in 2021, and their 93.5 and 90.8 overall grades were well above those of their next closest competitors. Simmons, Jones and Buckner received 72.0, 83.4 and 71.9 grades, respectively.
Notably, Heyward is one of only two players on the list over the age of 30, with Donald — a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year — being the other.
Heyward is the only Steeler in this year’s Top 10. In 2021 the list featured two Steelers linemen, with the other being defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who retired from the NFL in June.
In March 2022, CBS Sports named Heyward the best player ever drafted No. 31 overall.
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