Through the first six weeks of the NFL season, several popular names still lead the fray when it comes to defensive production. However, key injuries to superstars like J.J. Watt have created a void that has been filled by some surprising players, many of whom are having career years.
Here’s a look at each NFL team’s best defensive player so far in 2017.
Arizona Cardinals — Tyvon Branch, S
There are a lot of talented defenders on Arizona’s roster, but through six weeks, it’s hard to argue that Tyvon Branch — who has been called a “wolverine” complement to the “honey badger” — isn’t the very best. He not only leads the team and is tied for the league lead with 55 tackles, but he’s also defended four passes, forced a fumble and was named to the Pro Football Focus First Quarter All-Pro Team. Branch getting the nod says a lot about his impact this season when you consider Arizona also has Chandler Jones and his six sacks.
Atlanta Falcons — Deion Jones, LB
Deion Jones has filled out the box score this year, leading the Falcons with 38 tackles. He’s also recorded a sack, three passes defended and an interception. Jones is also among Pro Football Focus’ top 15 graded linebackers this season, alongside teammate De’Vondre Campbell, who has also landed very high grades for Atlanta. Jones is blossoming well for Atlanta in his second NFL season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are scheduled to play on Christmas for the second straight year, and at least one of their players is not happy about it.
Cam Heyward saw his team’s schedule for the 2017 season and grumbled about the Steelers playing on Christmas again:
The Steelers were one of four teams to play on Christmas in 2016. Most of the teams played on Saturday in Week 16 last season, with the customary Thursday and Monday night games taking place as well. Pittsburgh hosted Baltimore on the holiday, while the Broncos visited the Chiefs on Christmas.
This year the Steelers are set to play on Monday night at Houston. They once again will be one of the only four teams to play on the holiday, as the Raiders visit Philly later in the evening.
Pittsburgh Steelers DE Cam Heyward signed a six-year, $59 million contract last year, and he has decided to share a small portion of the wealth with his teammates.
TMZ posted several photos that show Steelers defenders checking out the new Couture backpacks Heyward bought for all of them. The backpacks retail for around $500 each, and Heyward also bought his teammates toiletry bags to go along with them. Oh, and he threw in some elevation masks for training.
In total, Heyward spent about $15,000 in personalized backpacks alone for his 31 teammates.
And it’s not even Christmas yet! At this rate, Heyward may surpass Arian Foster as the best gift-giver in the NFL.
One of the most controversial plays from Sunday’s game between the Broncos and Steelers came when Peyton Manning seemingly gave himself up for a sack in the fourth quarter but popped up and completed a pass to Emmanuel Sanders. We wouldn’t blame Pittsburgh fans for being angry with the officials, but Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward blamed his team.
After the 23-16 loss, Heyward credited Manning for a heads-up play.
“Big ups for him for getting back up,” Heyward said, per Lindsay H. Jones. of USA Today Sports. “Brain fart by us.”
Good on Heyward for not pointing the finger, but we disagree. Here’s a video of the play:
It clearly looked like Manning gave himself up, which would have been a sack. Since that would be a judgment call from the officials, the play was not reviewable. Even Manning made it seem like he went down intentionally.
“I’d like to get in there early in the morning and then I can get it deleted off the game film,” he joked. “I don’t know because those video guys get there pretty quick.”
Manning ended up completing a 34-yard pass to Sanders. While the Broncos still punted on the possession, the play may have played a significant role in field position, as the sack-that-should-have been took place at Denver’s 15-yard line.
The play that Heyward described as a “brain fart” was just one on a long list of plays that Steelers fans should be upset about.
Cameron Erving got his first career NFL start on Sunday, and things did not go well for the rookie.
A first-round pick by the Cleveland Browns out of Florida State, the No. 19 overall selection was flattened by Cam Heyward on a first-and-10 handoff up the middle that Heyward stuffed.
The play was nothing short of embarrassing for Erving, and it won’t quiet doubters who believed the Browns wasted a first-round pick on him.
Erving played center and left tackle at Florida State, and he worked mostly on the right side during training camp. Left guard is something new for Erving, but it still doesn’t excuse him getting bowled over like that.
One of the controversies in the NFL the past two weeks involved Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward writing a tribute to his late father on his eye black. That matters appears to have been resolved.
Heyward spoke with the league and the two sides agreed that the defensive end will honor his father in different ways moving forward, while the league agreed to reduce his fine, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
Heyward had “Iron Head” written on his eye black for a game a few weeks ago and was fined by the NFL $5,787. Despite the fine, Heyward did the same thing in Week 6. Heyward’s father, former NFL running back/fullback Craig “Iron Head” Heyward, died from cancer in 2006, leading his son to issue the tribute.
On Tuesday, Heyward tweeted about the matter and said he would no longer wear the eye black:
Heyward was facing an $11,576 fine for the second offense.
Apparently what helped Heyward’s case is that former Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Devon Still was not fined for writing a tribute to his daughter, who has been battling cancer, on his eye black. Heyward has agreed to honor his father in other ways moving forward.
Cam Heyward complained about being fined by the NFL for writing a tribute to his father on his eye black two weeks ago, and now the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end has repeated the act.
Heyward wore eye black for the Steelers’ Week 6 game against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, and he had “Iron Head” written on the strips just like when he did two weeks ago.
Heyward’s father is the late Craig “Iron Head” Heyward, who died of cancer. The league has very strict uniform policies, regardless of a player’s intent, which in this case is a positive one.
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward is the latest to complain about the uniform policies of the NFL.
Heyward was fined by the league for a tribute to his late father by writing “Iron Head” on his eye black for a recent game.
Cam’s father is the famous Craig “Iron Head” Heyward, a former running back with the Saints and Falcons among others. Iron Head died in 2006 because of cancer. The younger Heyward was fined $5,787 for the gesture.
Heyward’s teammate DeAngelo Williams also had a gripe with the league recently after they would not let him wear pink to honor his late mother, who died of breast cancer.