Now that the 2020 offseason has begun, following a second consecutive season in which they failed to even reach the playoffs, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past season, and with notice to anything that happens going forward.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we move forward.
Player: OLB Alex Highsmith
Stock Value: Purchased
The Steelers have never stopped drafting outside linebackers over the course of the past decade. What they have not done for a while, however, was to select one between the first rounds and the late rounds. Either they have swung for the fences—three first-round picks between 2013 and 2017—or they have waited until the fifth round, or usually later, to add depth to the position. Their top two reserves prior to the 2020 NFL Draft were both undrafted free agents from the past two classes.
They finally bucked these trends with the third-round selection of Alex Highsmith out of Charlotte, the first outside linebacker drafted after the first round and before the fifth since Jason Worilds in 2010. And only Chris Carter, in 2011, was drafted earlier than the sixth round, taken one round earlier than that, lasting three years in Pittsburgh but sticking it out all the way through 2017.
Sutton Smith, Keion Adams, Travis Feeney, Anthony Chickillo, Chris Carter. These are the outside linebackers the team drafted outside of the first round since 2011. Chickillo was by far the most significant of the group, with the first three listed having never even seen time on the 53-man roster.
Pittsburgh doesn’t need a starter, at least not right now. The team has T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree locked up for 2020 as the starting edge rushers. While Watt’s long-term future is taken as a given, it’s not assured that a long-term arrangement will be worked out with Dupree, however, so it is important that Highsmith show promise.
As for his rookie season, the majority of it will be spent hunting down returners rather than quarterbacks as a coverage man on special teams, though he should figure to be given some defensive work. He will be asked to compete with Olasunkanmi Adeniyi and Tuzar Skipper to see the field, however.