With the 31st pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select Cameron Heyward, defensive end from Ohio State. Heyward is 6’5″, and weighs 288 lbs.
Let me start off by saying that I really like this pick. Heyward, who is the son of former Pitt running back Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, is a great addition to the Steelers’ defensive line.
As I outlined in my analysis of the Steelers’ defensive line, the team had a glaring need for youth on their line. Ziggy Hood is the only Steelers starting defensive lineman who is under 30 years old. The majority of the backups are also over 30. So this pick will do a lot for the long-term strength of the Steelers defensive line. Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, and Brett Keisel have been great players for the Steelers, but each of them is coming to the end of their careers, and the Steelers needed to start planning for the future.
Heyward was a 4-year starter for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Being a 4-year starter is a pretty impressive statistic for any college player. But to be able to do that at one of the best college football programs in the country is doubly impressive. Moreover, Heyward was a team captain.
While players like Da’Quan Bowers (who remains undrafted at the end of round 1), J.J. Watt, and Ryan Kerrigan had significantly more sacks than Heyward did in 2010, I believe that Heyward was actually the best fit for the Steelers.
Most scouts judge defensive ends based on their ability to rush the quarterback. Speed off the edge is a highly valued commodity. However, for teams playing a 3-4 defense, the ability to rush the quarterback is much less important. Instead, 3-4 teams look for players who are strong against the run, and who can occupy blockers. That’s exactly what Cameron Heyward excels in. In fact, Heyward is one of the strongest of all of the defensive ends in this year’s draft.
Frankly, I had him ranked as one of the top 3-4 defensive linemen in the country last year. Had he come out of college early, he probably would have been a top 15 pick. However, he chose to return to college for his senior season because he loved college, and he wanted to try to win a national championship with the Buckeyes.
Unfortunately for Heyward, his senior year was not as good as his junior year, as his sacks dropped from 6.5 to only 3.5. In actuality, his total tackles, tackles for a loss, quarterback hurries, passes defensed, and interceptions actually increased in 2010. But as was mentioned earlier, many scout place undue emphasis on sacks. So instead of being a top 15 pick, Heyward dropped to the Steelers at pick #31. It will likely cost Heyward some money relative to what he would have made last year, but it’s very fortunate for the Steelers.
Beside being a solid football player, Heyward is a solid individual. Steelers fans know that character is just as important as playing ability when it comes to the Steelers. Heyward is a great locker room guy who was well-liked by his coaches and teammates. He has an excellent work ethic, and seems to genuinely enjoy playing the game.
Heyward has been labeled as being inconsistent at times. He also isn’t always as dominant as he should be. With his combination of size and strength, some believe that he should shed blockers much easier than he does. However, since the Steelers won’t be looking for him to accumulate sacks, I don’t see this as much of a problem. He is very difficult for a single blocker to move, and he really helped himself by completely dominating All-SEC offensive tackle DeMarcus Love in the Sugar Bowl.
There was one mild concern about Heyward coming into the draft. He had Tommy John surgery after the season to address an injury to his left elbow. Because of this, he didn’t perform at the NFL Scouting Combine or at Ohio State’s Pro Day. However, he had his own workout on March 30, and he showed no signs of lingering problems. Obviously, the Steelers agree with that assessment, or they wouldn’t have drafted him in the 1st round.
Analysis of all 2011 Steelers Draft picks:
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