Steelers Cameron Heyward highly unlikely to be DPOY despite dominant start

Cameron Heyward #97 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images)
Cameron Heyward #97 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images) /

Cameron Heyward is a remarkable football player, but here’s why the Steelers defensive tackle is unlikely to become a realistic candidate for DPOY in 2021.

What’s not to love about Cameron Heyward? The former first-round pick all the way back in 2011 has already spent over a decade in Pittsburgh, he works as hard as anyone on the team, and has been a leader of one of the league’s top defenses for years.

Despite being at the beginning of his age-32 season, father time can’t catch Cam. The two-time All-Pro defensive lineman is having a remarkable start to the season, and analysts have taken notice. According to Pro Football Focus, Heyward is the highest-ranked defensive player in all of football through the first three games — regardless of position:

Even without Tyson Alualu, Stephon Tuitt, T.J. Watt, and Alex Highsmith rushing alongside him last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, Heyward was still able to churn out a remarkable grade. Unfortunately, Heyward seems to have very little chance of becoming the Defensive Player of the Year this season.

Why Steelers Cameron Heyward won’t be the DPOY

Let me start by saying that I think Cameron Heyward should be in strong consideration for this award. since his first All-Pro season back in 2017, the Steelers have been a top-six defense every year, and Heyward is a massive part of that. Unfortunately, odds suggest that his chances are slim to none of earning the highest individual honor given to an NFL defensive player.

According to WynnBET, Heyward has just +7500 odds at becoming the Defensive Player of the Year this season — tied with players like underwhelming Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith and Patriots rotational pass rusher Kyle Van Noy.

To me, these odds seem completely disrespectful to one of the NFL’s best defensive players. So what is the reasoning for this?

Sadly, A+ film only gets you so far when it comes to DPOY consideration, and statistical production is what will ultimately drive the votes. In terms of that, Heyward doesn’t have much. Through the first three games of the season, he has earned just 4 tackles, 1.0 sack, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and 2 pass defenses, via Pro Football Reference.

Still, these numbers are more than respectable considering that Heyward has often been double-teamed and that he’s been missing much of his supporting cast to take some of the attention off him.

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Despite dominant seasons in each of the past two years, Heyward has only earned 13.0 sacks in his last 30 games and was never a real candidate to earn the Defensive Player of the Year award. Even Minkah Fitzpatrick — who is off to a very shaky start as PFF’s lowest-graded safety — still has significantly better DPOY odds than Heyward.

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Whether awards voters realize how dominant Cameron Heyward is or not, the Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t going to be taking him for granted anytime soon. It’s unfortunate that so much stock is put in statistical production. Heyward could very well wind up being the highest-graded player in football this year, but he won’t get a second thought as a realistic DPOY candidate in 2021.