Entering a pivotal third season of his career — and second full season as a starter — the arrow continues to put up for Pittsburgh Steelers’ third-year outside linebacker Alex Highsmith.
Playing opposite All-Pro outside linebacker T.J. Watt, Highsmith has quietly come into his own in the black and gold as a run defender and pass rusher overall. In his first full season as a starter in 2021, Highsmith turned in a strong season, recording 74 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, 15 quarterback hits and one forced fumble on the year.
Now, entering his third season with the black and gold, Highsmith is poised to take another big step forward on a loaded Steelers’ defense. Throughout the offseason Highsmith has talked about recording 10-12 sacks in 2022, which is certainly obtainable in a 17-game season, especially considering his trajectory since landing with the Steelers in the 2020 NFL Draft.
He’s been praised all offseason by national outlets as well, and that continued Tuesday as Pro Football Focus tabbed Highsmith as the Steelers’ “secret superstar” ahead of the 2022 season.
“Highsmith is the choice here, although it wasn’t easy picking out a secret superstar for Pittsburgh,” PFF’s Sam Monson writes regarding his selection of Highsmith for the Steelers. “Overshadowed by one of the best defenders in all of football in T.J. Watt, Highsmith was able to maintain the play he had previously shown on limited snaps across a much larger workload in 2021. He played 851 snaps last year, almost double the number from his rookie season, and had 43 defensive stops over the year. The Steelers would love to see him bring just a little more pressure to the table, but there is no reason he can’t take that step in his second full season starting.”
As Monson states, there is no reason Highsmith can’t take a major step forward in 2022. All the tools are there with the former third-round pick out of Charlotte. He’s developed nicely into a strong pass rusher overall opposite Watt, putting together a nice toolbox of moves to beat NFL tackles on a consistent basis.
Though he’s had some struggles with consistency as a run defender, Highsmith has come a long way since being thrown into the starting lineup late in his rookie season due to a season-ending injury suffered by Bud Dupree. With a full season as a starter under his belt, big things are expected in Year 3 for Highsmith. Playing opposite Watt and quietly going about his business, Highsmith could truly ascend into a star in 2022 if he can put it all together in the black and gold.