Alex Highsmith Named As An NFL Player Surpassing Expectations By Bleacher Report

Alex Highsmith’s career high in sacks is six, coming last season in 16 games. Through four games this season, Highsmith has 5.5 sacks. So it’s no surprise that Bleacher Report has named Highsmith one of the NFL players who has surpassed expectations through the first four weeks of the NFL season. The Athletic also listed Highsmith as the Steelers’ breakout player in 2022.

“A quick glance at the sack leaders through four weeks of the season doesn’t elicit many surprises. Nick Bosa, Rashan Gary, Khalil Mack and Maxx Crosby are among the top five. But Alex Highsmith is ranked ahead of all of them but Bosa. Entering his third year, the Steelers edge rusher was a candidate to see a boost in his stats. Rushing opposite of T.J. Watt was supposed to set him up with the opportunity to see an uptick in stats. Instead, he’s become a bonafide threat to offensive lines all by himself. Watt hasn’t played since Week 1 due to a chest injury, but Highsmith has continued to produce,” Alex Ballentine wrote for Bleacher Report.

With T.J. Watt healthy in Week 1, Highsmith had his best game of the season with three sacks, four quarterback hits and nine total tackles. Obviously, teams are paying more attention to Highsmith off the edge with Watt sidelined, but he’s come through with 1.5 sacks against the Cleveland Browns in Week 3 and a takedown of Zach Wilson against the New York Jets in Week 4. Highsmith probably could’ve had two more sacks, but Wilson’s mobility allowed him to escape as Highsmith couldn’t finish the sack.

Finishing plays is something that Watt talked about this offseason in regard to Highsmith, when he said that Highsmith’s stats don’t tell the full story about how well he’s played through his first few seasons in the league. Right now, Highsmith is certainly proving him right, as he’s utilized his spin move really effectively en route to becoming one of the NFL’s sack leaders in the early going. While he couldn’t finish the two sacks against the Jets, he was still able to get pressure and forced Wilson out of the pocket.

Mike DeFabo writes that with Watt out, Highsmith can prove he can be a “game-wrecker” on his own.

“Ahead of the season, the third-year outside linebacker set a goal for himself to record double-digit sacks. Four games in, he’s already more than halfway there with 5 1/2. That ranks second in the league behind only San Francisco’s Nick Bosa. Now, those stats are buoyed considerably by Highsmith’s three sacks in Week 1, when T.J. Watt was getting all the attention. Without Watt in the fold, Highsmith has a challenge — and also an opportunity — to prove he can be a game-wrecker on his own,” DeFabo wrote.

As a whole, the Steelers have really struggled to generate pressure with Watt gone, as Highsmith has really been the only constant. Pittsburgh has just three sacks in the three games Watt’s been out, and Highsmith has had a hand in all of them, with Highsmith’s totaling 2.5 and Larry Ogunjobi combining for one with Highsmith against the Browns. Malik Reed has been underwhelming on the opposite edge, while Cam Heyward has struggled with more attention going toward him from opposing offenses, and no one else has really been able to get to the quarterback. So, while Highsmith’s numbers might be slightly inflated from the three-sack game as DeFabo said, he’s showing he’s still able to get pressure and get home even when no one else has been able to.

Highsmith has definitely been a bright spot for this defense in 2022, despite the overall lack of pass rush with Watt absent. Hopefully, he can continue to play well and pick it up even further when Watt eventually returns from his torn pec.

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