Initial impressions would seem to indicate that the Pittsburgh Steelers landed a good player with their third-round compensatory selection of edge rusher Alex Highsmith last year, who was, outside of their first-round selections, the highest-drafted edge rusher for the team since Jason Worilds back in 2010. Of course, three first-round picks is a major caveat.
Pittsburgh may have to rely on Highsmith being that player they believe him to be as early as 2021 with the prospects of pending free agent Bud Dupree, who is rehabbing a knee injury, parting in free agency, because neither avenue works out in their favor.
In the event that Dupree lands a substantial contract, it would be beyond the Steelers’ price range, especially with a new deal pending for T.J. Watt. Alternatively, if he has to resort to a one-year deal to reset his market, there is no possibility of a reduced year-one hit, so even a $6 million deal is prohibitive.
While it’s likely Pittsburgh won’t have Dupree next season, however, they will have the man he learned from in Highsmith, who recently talked to Missi Matthews for the team’s website about what it was like to take his marching orders from him and Watt last season.
“As soon as I got drafted by the Steelers, I knew I was gonna be able to learn from the best edge rush duo in the league”, he said. “Just being able to learn from them and just improve my game was awesome. I just tried to watch them”.
He played sparingly early on, averaging about 10 snaps per game for the first several weeks before seeing his playing time tick upward, in part due to Mike Hilton’s injury. After Dupree went down with five games left to go, he had to take over a starting job.
Both Dupree and Watt remained instrumental to his growth during that time, but it began a long time before that, as he told Matthews. “I remember before I came and we were in Covid, all we could do was watch film, I had all those virtual meetings, and I was always watching the games and how they rush the passer, and I was reaching out to them for advice and stuff like that”, he said. “It’s just been awesome to be able to learn from both of them, because both of them are just two of the best in what they do”.
Watt and Highsmith could potentially make for a long-term, or somewhat long-term, edge-rushing duo, one can hope. While Watt has already established himself as being among the best in the game and as a prospect who figures to be quite reliable for years to come without making one worry about anything but paying him, the latter obviously still has a lot to prove.
He did post 48 tackles during his rookie season on 437 snaps played, though some of that also came on his 270 special teams snaps. He also recorded two sacks and an interception, as well as five tackles for loss, and six quarterback hits.