Now that the 2021 offseason has begun, following yet another year of disappointment, a fourth consecutive season with no postseason victories, 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 offseason as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future.
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: With Bud Dupree signing a major deal to join the Tennessee Titans, second-year Alex Highsmith is poised to enter the starting lineup on a full-time basis after finishing out his rookie season replacing Dupree following the veteran’s torn ACL.
The Steelers knew a year ago that they were likely to lose Bud Dupree. They were able to get him under the franchise tag for 2020, but the prospect of completing a long-term deal was always going to be problematic, and they were certainly in no position to match what the Titans just paid for him, pandemic or no.
That’s one of the reasons, though not the only one, that they invested a third-round pick at the position, which turned out to be a small-school walk-on out of Charlotte by the name of Alex Highsmith. Though he had somewhat limited production on the edge in college and played against a low level of competition, he checked so many of the boxes that he raised his stock in the pre-draft process, enough to climb up into day two.
It didn’t take him long to show why. Even without the benefit of an in-person offseason, and without a preseason, Highsmith came in prepared to play, something that he recently told the team’s website that he prided himself on.
The plan wasn’t for him to play a whole lot, though he did get included more in a five-linebacker sub-package while slot cornerback Mike Hilton was unavailable due to injury. But he played enough, and played well enough, that the team felt comfortable putting him out there on a full-time basis late in the year when he was needed.
Bud Dupree suffered a torn ACL late in the season, and that left Highsmith to start the final five games. He continued to refine himself over that stretch, and ended up putting up 28 tackles during that time with two for loss and a sack with five quarterback hits.
He has already said this offseason that his intention is to work on his strength, though without putting on too much muscle. He wants to stay as fast and athletic as possible, which is one of his chief assets, while improving his play strength.