Now that the 2021 season is over, bringing yet another year of disappointment, a fifth 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 season and into 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 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 young pass rusher concluded his first season as a full-time starter on a positive note with a solid overall performance in the Steelers’ postseason loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, managing to generate a few pressures, including a sack.
While T.J. Watt is the face of the Steelers’ outside linebacker position, you can only be so successful with one capable pass-rusher. Alex Highsmith, I’m sure, showed the team enough this year as a second-year player to be confident in his ability to deliver adequate bookmarking play.
The former third-round pick did certainly have his ups and downs, but he also had injuries to deal with. He suffered a groin injury between the end of the preseason and the start of the regular season, which I’m sure slowed him down from getting off to a fast start after having an excellent offseason.
He generally got better as the season went on, with the simplest measurement being the fact that he recorded a sack in three of his final four games, four in total, on his seven in all during the season, which includes the Wild Card game.
He also had a very respectable 16 tackles for loss, when including the postseason, as he had one in that game. Overall, though, it was a game in which it was difficult for anybody on defense to have much of an impact, and he did have a missed tackle or two.
Make no mistake, there is still a lot of room for improvement in his game, but when your comparison is T.J. Watt, the expectations can be unrealistic. At the same time, playing across from the likely Defensive Player of the Year does make your job easier, as well.
I am optimistic about the state of the outside linebacker position in terms of the starters with Highsmith developing into a legitimate counterweight opposite Watt, but the depth remains a serious concern. Taco Charlton is capable, but you still need another—ideally somebody even better. Like a Melvin Ingram or something.