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2022 Stock Watch – OLB Alex Highsmith – Stock Up

Now that training camp is over with the Pittsburgh Steelers back in Pittsburgh and gearing up for what they hope will be a much more productive season, it’s time to take stock of where the team stands. Specifically, where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen and are seeing over the course of training camp and the preseason and the regular season as it plays out. A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasoning for each one. 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 third-year outside linebacker seemed no worse for wear in his 2022 debut after missing the preseason due to a rib injury, registering three sacks and generally playing a strong all around game. With T.J. Watt expected to be absent for a period of time, he will now have to be the centerpiece of the Steelers’ pass rush on the edge.

It’s Alex Highsmith’s time, a statement that has multiple meanings in the wake of T.J. Watt’s pectoral injury. While (as of this writing) the team is optimistic the reigning Defensive Player of the Year could return by the second half of the season, the reality is that Highsmith is going to have to shoulder the pass-rush load, either for a while, or possibly for the rest of the year.

The good news is that, if he keeps playing the way he did in the opener, he can. The former third-round draft pick was expected to be prime for a breakout anyway, regardless of the status of Watt, so the timing couldn’t be better.

I am reminded a bit of the 2011 season. After James Harrison suffered an injury that would keep him out for a bit, it seemed to light a fire under LaMarr Woodley, who recorded 7.5 sacks in a four-game stretch before blowing out his hamstring en route to what likely would have been a third sack of Tom Brady. Unfortunately, that was the last snap of his dominant run, but to that point, he was authoring a Defensive Player of the Year season without his wingman on the other side.

Can Highsmith similarly step up and take charge? It’s not as though he would be going it alone. Even without Watt, this defense still has talent at every level with Cameron Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi, Myles Jack, and Minkah Fitzpatrick. They can get by with the rest, as well.

The biggest question is how well Malik Reed, Jamir Jones, and perhaps Delontae Scott, or an outside addition, can handle the left side of the defense in Watt’s place while he’s missing. I believe Highsmith can hold his own, but we are in the process of discovery on the other side.

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