The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Alex Highsmith is realistically capable of consistently being a 10-plus-sack player.
Explanation: A third-round pick in last year’s draft, the young outside linebacker started the final five games of last season after Bud Dupree tore his ACL, and it’s expected that Dupree will leave in free agency, with Highsmith moving into the starting lineup. He had two sacks during his rookie season on a little over 300 snaps, but he showed signs of development.
Highsmith may have only had two sacks, but he also had six quarterback hits, and as the season progressed, he was doing a better and better job of beating tackles. He has good speed and leverage, and he has an understanding of how to vary his pass-rushing moves to form a plan and set them up.
While he doesn’t have a lot of experience, it does seem as though he has an above average football IQ, and that can be just as important in getting to the quarterback at times, though of course you need the talent as well, and I think that he does.
Considering the fact that he only played on the edge one year in college, and did so at a small school, coming into the NFL amid a pandemic with a virtual offseason and no preseason, the work that Highsmith did put in when he god on the field was commendable, and should only be an inkling of what’s to come.
Obviously this isn’t a question that can be answered for years. It’s a big question to ask, and he’d need to put a couple of double-digit-sack seasons down on paper first before we can really start to say yes.
And really, the odds are against him. There aren’t a lot of guys who can consistently put up those numbers. Even James Harrison did not do it. Joey Porter didn’t do it. Jason Gildon arguably came the closest, with three double-digit seasons in a four-year period, and five straight years of 8.5-plus.
I don’t think that Highsmith has the frame to put on enough weight to overcome his strength deficiencies, and I think that’s what’s ultimately going to hold him back. That doesn’t mean he can’t have 10 sacks here and there, assuming that he even develops into a full-time starter, but to do it several times over a course of his career? I’m not sure I see the potential for that.