Seemingly lost in the large shadow cast by reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers’ third-year outside linebacker Alex Highsmith is using the shadows to work on his game, quietly developing into a very solid No. 2 opposite Watt.
Ahead of a pivotal third season for the Steelers’ outside linebacker, Highsmith has big goals, aiming to reach 10-12 sacks opposite Watt, which would put him in a long line of great Steelers’ outside linebackers in franchise history.
A former third-round pick that once had to walk on at the University of Charlotte, Highsmith appears to be the latest gem that the Steelers found outside of Day 1 at the position. With 32 career games (21 starts) and 1,288 career snaps defensively, Highsmith is poised for a breakout in Year 3 opposite Watt.
Still, he’s flying under the radar. Highsmith was recently tabbed the Steelers’ “best-kept secret” by Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox, who highlighted one under the radar player for all 32 teams ahead of the 2022 season.
“When you play opposite the best pass-rusher in the NFL, it’s a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that you don’t have to sweat many double-teams. The curse is that it’s rather difficult to make a name for yourself. In Pittsburgh, the job of being ‘the other guy’ opposite the great T.J. Watt falls to third-year pro Alex Highsmith, who tallied 74 total tackles and half a dozen sacks in his first season as a full-time starter in 2021,” Knox writes of Highsmith, tabbing him as the best-kept secret for the black and gold. “Given the tremendous amount of attention Watt commands from opponents after tying the single-season sack record a year ago, Highsmith’s situation is about as favorable as a pass-rusher could ask for. He also plays for a team that annually ranks at or near the top of the league in sacks.
“The ingredients are there for Highsmith to become the latest in a long list of edge-rushers in Pittsburgh who have had breakout seasons.”
Coming off of a second season in which he recorded a career-high 6.0 sacks, getting hot down the stretch recording a sack in each of his final three regular season games along with one in the playoff loss to the Chiefs, Highsmith has lofty goals set for his third season.
Considering the jump in production he had as a rookie to a full-time starter in Year 2, the sky is the limit for the former third-round pick as he continues to add strength, develop his pass rush moves and really get comfortable playing in the NFL at a fast pace. If he can stay healthy in 2022 after dealing with a groin injury early last season, Highsmith should be able to take a sizable leap forward with his game, pairing with Watt to form a dominant outside linebacker duo in the Steel City, which has become expected throughout the Steelers’ history in the 3-4 defense since the 90s.