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: Down
Reasoning: If you don’t know the theme by now, then you haven’t been following the series. The limitations that will be put in place in training camp and the potential for a shortened or even eliminated preseason is putting all rookies behind the eight ball. This will directly affect Alex Highsmith’s chances of contributing, meaningfully or otherwise, in 2020.
When asked why the Steelers targeted an outside linebacker, head coach Mike Tomlin said of Highsmith following the 2020 NFL Draft that they needed more people to go hunt down the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks that lead each of their three AFC North opponents in Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, and Joe Burrow.
He won’t be hunting so much as a rookie. That was likely to be the case already, but the conditions of this offseason will make it very hard for him to be a meaningful contributor. An example. in 2010, the Steelers carried Jason Worilds and Thaddeus Gibson as their backup outside linebackers, as rookies.
Gibson was from Ohio State and on a trimester system, meaning he was unable to participate in the early Spring workouts, which put him behind. During the year, they ended up using rookie inside linebacker Stevenson Sylvester over him to play. When they needed a roster spot, they released Gibson, despite being a fourth-round pick.
Highsmith wasn’t drafted much higher, and at least the other players in his group have an NFL season under their belts. Olasunkanmi Adeniyi is due to become a contributor this year and should be the top backup. Tuzar Skipper is basically the next Adeniyi. Highsmith will watch and wait.
Let’s not forget that he’s coming out of a small school, too. That’s a big adjustment to make to the NFL without the benefit of a remotely traditional offseason. Javon Hargrave did it, but he was a superior athlete and had a full offseason.