Cameron Heyward Lands Inside Prime 5 In PFF’s 25 Finest Inside Defenders Rankings From 2022 Season

Cameron Heyward continues to get it done at a high level in the NFL, even at the ripe age of 33 years old.

In his 12th season in the NFL in a rather demanding position like defensive end, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ star defensive end continued his run of dominance in 2022, recording 10.5 sacks on the season — the second straight year he’s eclipsed 10.0 sacks — earning him a spot inside Pro Football Focus’s 25 best interior defenders in the league rankings Tuesday morning.

Heyward came in at No. 5 overall in the rankings compiled by PFF’s Jonathon Macri, placing just behind Kansas City’s Chris Jones, the Giants’ Dexter Lawrence, the Jets’ Quinnen Williams, and Los Angeles’ Aaron Donald in the top 5.

On the season, Heyward finished with a grade of 89.8 overall, narrowly missing the prestigious 90.0 mark by .2 points.

“Heyward wraps up his 12th NFL season with another year of elite production and grades across the board,” Macri writes regarding Heyward’s ranking at No. 5 overall. “The 33-year-old played over 800 defensive snaps for the fifth-straight season and posted top-five marks in run defense grade (78.2), total pressures (58) and wins above replacement (0.26).”

Last season, Heyward finished with 74 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 23 quarterback hits, four pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery, earning his sixth straight Pro Bowl berth in the process, though his run of All-Pros came to an end at three straight.

He was a force throughout the season, earning single-game grades of 80.0+ eight times in 2022, including a season-high 92.4 against Buffalo in Week 5, and back-to-back 90.0+ performances against Carolina and Las Vegas in Weeks 15 and 16, two games the Steelers won to keep their playoff hopes alive.

As a run defender, Heyward took a step back in 2022 — at least based on PFF’s metrics, grading out at a 78.2 overall, while his tackling grade fell from a 78.5 overall in 2021 to a 68.4 overall in 2022. According to my own missed tackles charting, Heyward missed just three tackles on the season, good for a 3.9% miss rate, which was one of the best marks on the team overall.

Heyward’s pass rush grade declined some in 2022 as well, falling to a 78.5 overall from an 85.8 in 2022, even though he had 58 total pressures and 10.5 sacks last season, compared to 61 pressures and 10.0 sacks in 2021. It doesn’t make much sense overall, but those are the numbers PFF gave him from a grades perspective.

Overall, Heyward remains a force for the Steelers and really isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Assuming the defense can have a bit more luck from a health perspective in 2023 compared to last season, Heyward should continue to see a lot of one-on-ones in the trenches, allowing him to dominate week after week.

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