All the national focus rightly falls on T.J. Watt. But locally, in the OLB room, the spotlight rests on Alex Highsmith. Steelers’ fans know who Watt is, one of if not the most dominant defensive player in the game. The bar’s set high for him each season, and he comfortably leaps over it year after year. The goal of Pittsburgh’s EDGE rush room is to find a great complement to Watt. That man can be Alex Highsmith, who played well towards the end of last year, and someone Mike Tomlin praised following Saturday’s practice.
“I expect grown-man, varsity ball and he’s given us that thus far,” Tomlin told reporters via a team transcript. “He’s highly motivated and highly conditioned. He’s excited about taking the step.”
Highsmith enters year three trying to hit the double-digit sack mark, revealing in interviews during the offseason he wants to at least reach ten sacks. He finished 2021 with six of them but got hot down the stretch, picking up four of his final four games including the Wild Card loss to Kansas City. A groin injury bothered him in the first half of the year but good health down the stretch showcased the player he can be. Highsmith has also been solid against the run, chasing the ball backside and working off blocks. His biggest area of improvement there is not giving up the edge and cheating to beat blocks to the inside.
As a pass rusher, he can create a more focused pass rush plan. Highsmith has as many tools in the toolbelt as any player on the team. Getting great at say, three of those moves would make him a more refined player. James Harrison didn’t need a dozen moves to get to the quarterback. If Highsmith can primarily use say, his rip/speed rush, his inside spin, and his bull, he’ll become a better pass rusher. So far, Highsmith has enjoyed a strong camp. Perhaps not quite as impressive as his elite performance last year, but Highsmith has been pushing LT Dan Moore Jr. daily, each winning their fair share of battles.
A big Year Three from Highsmith will make a great Steelers’ pass rush even better. And perhaps get the team to 60 sacks, a number that’s eluded them the past five years. A big year from him could put him in line for a payday next summer, though projecting his exact value is tough to do this far out. 2023 will mark the final year of his rookie deal.