Being on the wrong side of 30 marks the beginning of the end for most NFL players. But as he enters his age-34, Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward is playing some of his best football yet.
Over his 12-year career, Heyward has embodied all of the traits that people generally associate with the Steelers: toughness, leadership, grit, loyalty, and most of all longevity. Since turning 30, Heyward has received three All-Pro nods in four seasons, along with four Pro Bowl berths. Last season he recorded 10.5 sacks, becoming the Pittsburgh Steeler to ever record double-digit sacks at that age or older.
As the offseason continues to roll along and more and more football analysts put out their rankings of players over 30, Heyward remains a mainstay on every list. He almost always ranks in the top 10, if not the top five, as evidenced by his fifth-place ranking on Pro Football Focus’ list that came out recently. On that Pro Football Focus list and many others, he also ranks as the top defensive lineman over 30.
The 33rd Team came out with a list of its own this week and placed Heyward all the way down at 10th. Not only that, but he was behind one of his defensive line counterparts in New England Patriots edge rusher Matthew Judon, who ranked eighth.
While Judon has posted gaudy sack numbers for a solid Patriots defense over the past two seasons, he’s never been an All-Pro, so it is a bit confusing why he is be ahead of the more decorated Heyward.
Here’s what author and former Minnesota Vikings GM Jeff Diamond had to say about Heyward:
“He’s the tough, physical heart and soul of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. Cameron Heyward is coming off a sixth-straight Pro Bowl season in which he had 10.5 sacks and 74 tackles.” Diamond wrote. “He has missed just 11 games during his entire 13-year career, spent entirely in his hometown of Pittsburgh as a former first-round pick.”
The durability of Heyward is something of note. If you look at the last five seasons (his age 29-33 seasons) he’s only missed one game. There’s been a lot of changes in the Steelers’ organization in the last 12 years, but number 97 has been a constant force.
As Heyward moves into the 2023 season, he’s showing no signs of slowing down. While most defensive linemen his age are considering retirement or already retired, he’s still producing at an elite level. And while we can’t expect it to go on forever, Steelers fans can take solace in knowing the end isn’t in sight just yet.