(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt have been staples on the Steelers' defensive line together for almost a decade. They're arguably the best interior duo in the league, so it was no surprise that they both ranked in the top 10 in ESPN's survey that included 50 league executives, coaches, scouts, and players to help compile the top 10 interior defensive lineman in the NFL.
Heyward ranked fourth and Tuitt came in at No. 8, while Rams defensive tackle and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald ranked No. 1.
Surprisingly, one NFL executive even had Tuitt ranked as the best interior defensive lineman in the league over Donald.
While Tuitt is a highly talented player, having him ranked ahead of Donald is a major stretch. Donald is just in a class of his own. Nevertheless, Tuitt is coming off a career-best season last year, in which he recorded 11 sacks, two forced fumbles and 25 quarterback hits.
"Incredibly gifted player," an NFC Scout said of Tuitt. "Comes and goes, but when he's on, he's a massive problem."
An AFC executive also had high remarks for Tuitt in the ESPN article.
"Take away the injuries and inconsistencies from past years and he's top-five easily," the AFC executive said. "[Heyward] has been that guy on the [Steelers] D-line for a while, but it kind of started to flip this year where Tuitt got some attention."
Heyward ranked sixth last year in ESPN's interior defensive lineman rankings, so he moved up two spots this year and his highest ranking was at No. 2.
"Heyward isn’t in the top five for everyone, but he rarely falls past No. 7 on the ballots," Jeremy Fowler of ESPN wrote. "One of the league’s most consistent performers inside is still playing at a high level. The only real knock is he might have missed a few sacks (four on the year, down from an 8.5 average the previous two seasons). But his 21 incompletions created is the third-best mark on this list, using his length (34.25-inch arms) and power to penetrate the line."
One AFC executive had this to say about Heyward: “Steady, consistent, productive, technician. Once he gets those long arms in your chest, he can push you back.”
Added an NFC executive: “He really came on late in the year. For that stretch he was back to doing what he does. ... When you play Pittsburgh, he was the guy we said we had to stop. The reason why is you can’t block that joker inside.”