New Faces 2020: OLB Alex Highsmith

There isn’t much else to do while we sit here and wait for news about whether or not there will even be training camp, so it seems as good a time as any to bring back this series, in which we look to introduce some of the new players that the Pittsburgh Steelers have added to the mix since the end of the 2019 season.

The team added some notable pieces in free agency, which was important, because they didn’t have much to work with in terms of draft capital due to previous trades. They also made liberal use of the XFL’s closure, signing about as many players from there as the rest of the league combined. Even while claiming that they didn’t have a lot of roster room, they still signed a good number of rookie college free agents as well, enough that they had to release three players just to make room for them.

For the purposes of avoiding coverage of the same player twice in a single day, I’m going to talk about Alex Highsmith, the Steelers’ third-round pick, before looping back to addressing Chase Claypool tomorrow, because Highsmith will be included in another series tomorrow.

A rookie outside linebacker out of Charlotte, Highsmith was a late riser on the draft boards, in part because he is coming out of a small school, but also because he had an imbalanced body of work. He was not moved to the edge in Charlotte’s scheme until his senior season, which is when he actually blossomed as a pass rusher.

Highsmith choice of Charlotte was driven in part because he is local to the area, having grown up in Wilmington, North Carolina. He was also a three-sport athlete in high school, which may have contributed to his lack of substantial interest. He only received two minor scholarship offers before ultimately earning a walk-on role for the 49ers (Charlotte’s team name).

The soon-to-be 23-year-old was a redshirt his first year in college and then proceeded to play four more years, growing into a rotational linemen in his second season. He moved into the starting lineup as a redshirt junior, but played along the interior.

He still produced a high volume of tackles for loss from that position, and forced two fumbles, but the role did not give him the opportunity to rush the passer. With a new coaching staff his senior year, he did get moved to the edge, where he blossomed, putting up 15 sacks.

He did well enough to earn a Combine invitation, where he tested well, including a 4.7 40-yard dash time. He can put on a bit of weight, but his measureables also checked out well all around. The Steelers ultimately drafted him with their third-round compensatory pick, 102nd overall. Outside of their three first-round picks at the position, it’s the highest they’ve taken an outside linebacker as depth since Jason Worilds in 2010.

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