Now that the 2020 regular season 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 are seeing over the course of the season as it plays out. Who is making plays? Who is missing them? Who is losing snaps? Who is struggling to stay on the field?
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. 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 season as we move forward.
Player: OLB Alex Highsmith
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Alex Highsmith will take a central role in the Steelers’ defense for at least the remainder of the 2020 season following starting right outside linebacker Bud Dupree suffering a torn ACL. The rookie is expected to take over the majority of the snaps there.
The Steelers were pretty fortunate in terms of health on the defensive side of the ball last season, even if the opposite side of the ball was a much different story. They did lose Stephon Tuitt for the year after five games—and technically, Sean Davis as well—but they have already lost two full-time starters this year, while others have missed time due to injury, including Mike Hilton for a good chunk of time.
The loss of Bud Dupree will be a big blow, though it’s hard to say without seeing the results whether or not it will be as significant as the loss of Devin Bush in the middle. The Steelers still have T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, and Tuitt, so even without Dupree they still have one of the best fronts in the NFL.
Whether or not they can continue to be the best will be partially determined by Alex Highsmith, the rookie outside linebacker out of Charlotte, who was a third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. He has gotten on the field this year and rotated in, even recording an interception and a sack, but now he will be asked to do more than just contribute. He will be asked to be a difference-maker.
While he does have a pass-rush plan, he lacks the strength to consistently be able to employ it successfully. He knows how to set the edge, but must do it consistently, and he will be overmatched at times.
Dupree had become a very stout run defender in addition to his pass-rush ability, and was having the best season of his career. Highsmith will have big shoes to fill, but he will also have a lot of help from a great front line, and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi and Jayrone Elliott will be behind him to contribute as well.