Now that the regular season 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 have seen and are seeing over the course of the offseason and the regular season 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 reasoning. 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. Because of this, we can and will see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: OLB Alex Highsmith
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: The second-year outside linebacker has already shown tremendous growth from his rookie season as he looks to establish himself as a full-time, every-down-capable player.
If you just look at his statistics, there is no way that you would be able to discern the true impact Alex Highsmith had on last Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills. All told, he was credited with four tackles, and that was it. Needless to say, that doesn’t tell the full story.
For starters, three of those four tackles were defensive ‘wins’ for the Steelers, creating negative plays for the Bills. And he did that while playing fewer snaps than did T.J. Watt or Melvin Ingram, the other outside linebackers with whom he is rotating.
More importantly, his presence off the edge provided a constant threat for Josh Allen and the Bills. Highsmith finished the first week of the regular season with the second-fastest get-off in the league, behind only Joey Bosa, and when you get off the line that quickly, you stress the defense and force them to account for you.
He won a good percentage of his one-on-one battles as a pass rusher, even if he didn’t generate as many hurries as Watt and Ingram did—who, again, did log more snaps—but those quick wins also force the offense to get the ball out quickly.
Aside from his improvement in getting off the line of scrimmage and in his general awareness, Highsmith’s improved playing strength was also very obvious. There were multiple reps in which he was able to drive a lineman into the backfield, though he can perhaps still learn a thing or two from Ingram.
That’s the other great thing about him, however. While he is confident in his abilities, he’s always ready to learn and to jump at every opportunity to get better. He has really taken to his positioning in between Watt and Ingram and the prospects of benefiting from their accumulated wisdom and experiences.