From now until the 2020 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#5 Alex Highsmith/EDGE/Charlotte/6’3”, 248 Lbs
-Really good footwork and athleticism for the position
-Powerful, rocked up frame; certainly looks the part of a menacing EDGE
-Plays with great pad level for his size and uncoils into blockers with some spring
-Explosive mover in short areas
-Instinctive run defender that processes quickly
-Powerful first punch to knock blockers back; converts speed to power well
-Speed to jump inside of blockers and cross the face
-Has a good pass rush plan snap-to-snap
-Very good motor; rarely outworked by opponent
-Incredible production throughout his career
-Rarely asked to drop into coverage
-Lack of length overall is a concern with his body type
-Tackle radius is a bit small for a guy his size, playing off of lack of length
-Frame overall appears maxed out; what you see is what you will get physically
-Need to work on play strength throughout games; can be handled often by physical tackles
-Hand fighting needs some refinement when rushing the passer
-Production due to competition level?
-Former walk-on at Charlotte
-Played in 48 career games for Charlotte
-Finished four-year career with 185 total tackles, 46.0 TFL, 20.0 sacks, five pass deflections, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery
-Recorded 14 sacks in senior season
-First 49er ever to be named First Team All-C-USA in program history
-Named a 2019 Third Team All-America by AP and PFF
-Competed in the 2020 East-West Shrine Bowl
-Invited to the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, where he clocked a 4.70 40-yard dash. A 33-inch vertical jump, a 125-inch broad jump, and a 7.32 3-cone drill. Did not compete in bench press
Small school guys are often the ones draftniks get to last, and that’s the case with Charlotte’s Alex Highsmith for me.
Throughout the 2019 season, I observed and tracked Highsmith from afar, but I never dove into the tape until earlier this week. For me, he’s what other draftniks wanted Louisiana State and current Ravens EDGE Jaylon Ferguson to be last year.
Right away, Highsmith jumped off the tape as a run defender, packing some serious power in his initial punch, while also playing with really good pad level for a bigger EDGE defender.
Here against Buffalo in the Bahamas Bowl last year, Highsmith absolutely dominates this blocker, blocking him backwards into the backfield before then shedding to make the TFL. That’s a thing of beauty right there.
The one thing I really love with Highsmith is his short-area explosion and the relative ease with which he moves.
That’s a great job of jumping inside with a good club and wipe to stay clean, and then has good power to finish the play.
As a pass rusher, Highsmith really knows how to play behind his pads and convert speed to power.
Watch him fly upfield, see the tackle setting deep and then drop his pads and power through the tackle’s chest, finishing off the sack shortly afterwards.
The one thing I didn’t like with Highsmith as a run defender was that he peaks into the backfield a bit too much while engaged with a blocker, causing him to work his way out of the play.
Here against Clemson he does a great job with the initial punch, but then he peaks inside, eases up on the push and allows the back to scoot around the edge. He does show his power overall though towards the end of the rep by nearly shoving the tight end into the back, but I’d like to see him use his hands better to shock and shed, rather than try and peak into the backfield and then free himself up.
I just love Highsmith’s motor. He’s all over the place on film and plays with his hair on fire.
That’s some great range and a tremendous finish by Highsmith in space, working from one side of the field to the other.
You need a defender like this on your defense, a guy who sets the tone right away and leads by example.
Overall, I really like the overall body of work and traits Highsmith has to work with. He has the right height and weight, good power, and the right mentality to thrive on the edge. I am a bit concerned with his short arms and the amount of production he had against small schools, but he’s definitely worth a flier early on Day 3, and good develop into a solid rotational pass rusher.
Projection: Early Day 3
Games Watched: Clemson (2019), Buffalo (2019), UMass (2019), Western Kentucky (2019)