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: The rookie outside linebacker turned in a solid performance in his fourth start of the season against the Indianapolis Colts, which included the registering of a couple of key late-game pressures that altered the game.
It’s rather likely that the Steelers are looking at a starting lineup on defense in 2021 that includes Alex Highsmith in there, with Bud Dupree a pending free agent who, despite having suffered a torn ACL, will command a high salary outside of the team’s ability to match, relative to their other obligations.
Given that background, it’s a good thing that the rookie is showing as much promise early on in his young career as he has. While he certainly has room for improvement, and could really stand to put on a bit more muscle to help out with his bull rush and in setting the edge, when you watch the tape, you see the potential for improvement.
Already, he has a pretty good understanding of the game, and of his assignments. He knows how to set the edge, he knows how to drop, and most importantly, he has a pass-rush plan. He even broke out an effective-looking spin move that I don’t believe any of the Steelers’ rushers has really used with much prominence since Jason Worilds, and he didn’t break that out until his third season.
He used it with effectiveness late in Sunday’s game, pressuring Philip Rivers into an errant pass to force an incompletion that sealed the game. Earlier in the fourth quarter, he beat the tackle around the edge with speed and leverage to hit Rivers and force a poor throw that was intercepted by Mike Hilton.
As I mentioned earlier, he still has room for improvement, and that includes not just the physical but the mental as well. He’s still learning and growing. I don’t know what his ceiling is, but I do know that he will be better than he is now, and that for now is encouragement enough about his future.