Study: How Effective Was Alex Highsmith On Third Down?

All eyes are going to be on Alex Highsmith this year. He’s stepping into a full-time role after replacing Bud Dupree late last season. He doesn’t need to immediately turn into Dupree, it took Dupree years to breakout, but he needs to be a complementary rusher opposite T.J. Watt.

Great pass rushers can impact the game on any down. But it starts with the money down — third down. That’s where I want to put the focus of today’s article. As a rookie, how Highsmith rushed the QB on third down. The moves he used, how he won, how he lost, and whatever conclusions we can draw from it.

I went through and charted all 56 of Highsmith’s third down rushes last season. Of those 56, nine didn’t have much action because the ball got out before Highsmith made contact with the tackle/attempted a pass rush move, etc. So there’s 47 rushes I’ve compiled together. I’ve broken them down by the type of moved use, the number of times he used it, the number of times he won with it, and his overall win rate.

That’s shown in the table below.

Pass Rush Move Rush Attempts Rush Wins Rush Win %
Cross Chop 5 1 20%
Stunt (Crasher) 11 2 18.2%
Club 3 2 66.7%
Bull 13 1 7.7%
Swim 3 2 66.7%
Dip/Ghost 5 2 40%
Spin 4 3 75%
Rip 3 0 0%


So let’s look at those results. He used eight different moves on those 47 chances (stunts really aren’t a “move” but it was worth creating a category for it). His bull was his most popular with 13 attempts. It was also among his least successful, winning just once, and speaks to a need for him to get stronger and win with power more often. It’ll help set up all his other moves.

His most effective moves, albeit it with smaller sample sizes, were his club and spin. What showed on tape was how much better he was at winning with inside moves than he was on the edge. His clubs and spins were often to the inside when the tackle set wide and the guard slid down. Some examples.


Most everything else, though, needs work. Overall, while Highsmith has tons of tools in his toolbelt, he needs to become a more refined rusher who narrows his pass rush arsenal down to a couple moves. The swim, spin as inside counters/rushers. Improve the bull, and even that probably shouldn’t be used often because it’s not how he’s going to win — he’s not a Harrison/Woodley, brute force guy. Master that dip/ghost. In addition to the defense using him on stunts, that’s really all he needs.

We’ve spent this offseason, and even Highsmith has spoken about it, discussing the need for him to need to hone his craft and find go-to moves. I’d start with one inside counter and one outside rush move and build a little bit more from there. If he does that, he can become an awfully successful pass rusher in this league.

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