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: Rookie third-round outside linebacker Alex Highsmith has been in the starting lineup for two weeks now following Bud Dupree’s season-ending injury, and he appears to be growing more comfortable with the more snaps that he plays.
While he is still waiting on making his first significant, impactful play since entering the starting lineup, we are seeing an important and valuable pattern emerging in rookie Alex Highsmith’s game, and that is that he is growing more comfortable with his increased playing time.
It should be expected, of course, for somebody to gain comfort as he gains experience, but that doesn’t necessarily always translate into the performance. The fact that Highsmith is already showing the ability to put together a pass-rushing plan, however, is promising.
Though he has made a couple of plays this season—he has an interception and a sack, for example—he hasn’t hit the big plays yet over the past two games. He did have a hit on the quarterback last week in Buffalo. He had another good rush that looked threatening for a sack, but he lost his balance.
Arguably the more encouraging sign is that he has been displaying a certain level of intelligence in the run game, setting the edge well and using leverage to put himself in a position to make plays, or to funnel a run into an area where others will make the play.
Logging almost 130 snaps over the past two weeks, Highsmith has picked up six tackles in that span. Only one of them came against the Bills, though it did happen to be a tackle for loss, which is his fourth on the season.
Overall, he has now logged 266 defensive snaps on the season, with nearly half of his playing time coming over just the span of the past two games. He has three more games, plus the postseason, to basically show the Steelers that he is capable of being a full-time starter in 2021 and beyond.