Is Pittsburgh Steelers second year outside linebacker Alex Highsmith too underappreciated? Cynthia Frelund from NFL.com thinks so.
Frelund recently released her list of the NFL’s most underappreciated players in the NFL and Highsmith was included on it. Below is her reasoning for purring the steelers third round draft pick out of Charlotte on her list.
In his rookie season, the third-rounder made a tackle on nearly 10 percent of his snaps (9.9 percent tackle rate). This was the second-highest rate among edge defenders last season (min. 400 snaps). While I don’t expect his rate to stay that high — with the departure of Bud Dupree, he’ll play a higher volume of snaps and have a more visible role that will command more attention — but I do expect big things to continue. The two main reasons for that: 1) In terms of his speed in the first 3 yards traveled, Highsmith ranked in the top 10 percent in 2020; and 2) his hips stayed facing the quarterback even after contact at a rate in the top 15 percent (this helps predict recovery and pursuit of pressure).
During the 2021 offseason, the Steelers lost starting outside linebacker Bud Dupree in free agency as he signed a lucrative deal with the Tennessee Titans. That now means that Highsmith will be expected to take over Dupree’s starting spot on the right side in 2021 and just like he did to close out the 2020 season after Dupree suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Highsmith said recently it was awesome to learn from Dupree and T.J. Watt during his rookie season. Watt praised his young teammate during the 2020 season for his progress.
“He always comes to work ready to grow and get better,” said fellow outside linebacker T.J. Watt during the season. “That is the thing with him. He is always asking the right questions. I am not able to see guys prepare this year because we are all socially distanced and watching film from home. I know he is prepared.”
Highsmith certainly knows he has big shoes to fill with Dupree now gone and he appears to be ready for the challenge. Highsmith admitted recently that the talk from many of the draft experts since the 2020 season ended motivated him to work extremely hard this offseason. Many of those draft experts believed the Steelers should take an edge rusher early in this year’s draft.
Highsmith needs to really play well in 2021 to take a little pressure of Watt on the other side. He said as much during a recent post OTA practice media session.
“I feel like I’ve got to come in and earn the respect that he has”, Highsmith said of Watt, “because he’s one of the most respected guys in the game. He is one of the best at what he does, so I’ve got to come in and earn that respect as well to be able to even it out a little bit”.