The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Rookie Alex Highsmith will be the Steelers’ number three outside linebacker this season, at least on passing downs.
Explanation: On the current roster, among teams likely in or near the roster bubble, the only reserves at outside linebacker are Ola Adeniyi, Tuzar Skipper, and rookie third-round pick Alex Highsmith. Highsmith by far has the highest pedigree of the three, though the other two have slightly more NFL experience, and have had preseason success as pass-rushers.
Adeniyi couldn’t even make it ahead of Anthony Chickillo for playing time, even in pass-rushing situations, and pass-rushing was always the weakest component of Chickillo’s game. Skipper was already waived once and they didn’t jump at the chance of bringing him back. They even re-signed Sutton Smith to the practice squad at one point before they signed him again.
Of the three, Highsmith has the most athletic ability, and with T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree in the starting lineup, chances are they’re not going to come off the field a lot except in late-game situations with the lead when they want to keep the pass-rush fresh.
Highsmith is a guy who can just pin his ears back and do the one thing they ask him to do, get into the backfield. That’s not too much to ask of him. He’s a guy who studies the game and knows how to set up a pass rush.
Granted, it may be easier to secure a dedicated pass-rushing sub-package role as a rookie than as a full-time rotational number three edge defender, which would cater more toward those with a longer time served in the system. But with being an unusual offseason, it’s unknown how much on-field training he will get.
Skipper showed a lot of promise last Summer, and this year he’ll have the opportunity to build on that. For Adeniyi, it’s important to remember that he got injured in the preseason, and that set him back. Both of them should be expected to show growth this year and be bigger contributors, provided that the starters allow for it, over a rookie.