It is very rare that a player in any sport gets better past their young prime. Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward happens to be one of those anomalies.
Heyward was drafted by the Steelers in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. To put it into perspective, of the 32 players in that first-round class, only four remain as active players; two of them happen to be on the Steelers.
With this noted, Heyward is one of the few players in the years I have followed this sport who has continued to increase his production each year. It is rare to find players who age well in a sport that is unforgiving to the human body like football. Heyward has not only stood the test of time, but he continues to get better with age.
Now that we have prefaced all this, we come to Pro Football Focus and my gripe with them. Just today, they released their list of the top 10 NFL interior defenders. Though I have no arguments with the names on this list, it is where Heyward was placed on this list that bothers me greatly.
For some context, the same people who had Heyward listed at No. 5 are the same people who have been giving him elite-level grades every year since the 2019 season. Pro Football Focus has not given him a grade lower than an 89:
2019 - 91.5
2020 - 89.1
2021 - 90.1
2022 - 89.9
Now, if we are solely using last season as the measuring stick, how can you not list him lower than No. 3 behind Chris Jones? I find it interesting that the person occupying the No. 3 spot, Dexter Lawrence, finished with fewer solo tackles and sacks than Heyward but somehow had a higher grade. As much as I appreciate Pro Football Focus for what they do, I believe their method of grading is sometimes more subjective than objective. Even with this, Heyward's complete body of work alone merits him being much higher on that list.
As much as I am aware that it is just one publication, it just so happens that it is run in the same city as the Steelers division rivals, that being Cincinnati. That being said, this list does not and should not reflect how great Heyward has been over the last decade or more. He is, in my opinion, the best overall interior defensive lineman in the NFL, and no one can convince me otherwise.