NFL analyst and creator of the Trench Warfare Newsletter Brandon Thorn recently came out with his updated rankings of the 2022 True Sack Rate. According to Thorn, he uses the true sack rate method provide us with each rusher’s “sack score,” based on a point system that specifies four different types of sacks and forced fumbles including a 1-on-1 win against a very good OL, a 1-on-1 or 1-on-2 win over an above average (or below) blocker, a sack coming as a result of being unblocked or a scheme such as a twist or stunt, or an effort sack coming as the result of excellent secondary work or a quarterback hanging onto the ball for too long as factors playing into his scoring system.
In his Week 7 update of the study, he had LB Micah Parsons take the top spot amongst edge rushers with a sack score of 8.5. After Parsons came Myles Garrett with a score of 6.75 followed Pittsburgh’s very own Alex Highsmith with a score of 6.5.
“The top 12 overall (Parsons-Trey Hendrickson) is a star-studded group and then there’s Steelers Alex Highsmith sitting at third overall in sack score,” Thorn said in his article. “Highsmith’s get-off has always been eye-catching on film, but this year his spin and ghost moves have been a lethal combination that has accounted for three of his four HQ sacks and a bulk of his pressures as a rusher. The most notable aspect of Highsmith’s production is that it has been accomplished without T.J. Watt in the lineup. Once Watt returns over the next few weeks the Steelers should have one of the most potent edge-rushing duos in the NFL thanks to Highsmith’s ascension.”
Highsmith currently sits fourth in the NFL with 6.5 sacks on the season, trailing only Matthew Judon, Nick Bosa, and Micah Parsons. Highsmith benefited greatly from a three-sack performance Week 1 against the Bengals when Watt was on the opposite side of the LOS to take more attention away from him, but Highsmith has remained effective in Watt’s absence. The pass rush has struggled without Watt in the lineup, only recording five sacks since Week 1. Highsmith has accounted for 3.5 of those, often being the opposing team’s focus with their blocking scheme as they try to keep him from getting pressure on the QB.
Alex Highsmith has already surpassed his sack total from last season, displaying an ascension in his game like Thorn noted above when it comes to winning with a variety of pass rush moves. He made Jedrick Wills look silly in with a killer spin move Week 3 against the Browns and dipped under Donovan Smith with a ghost move paired with a rip to get into the pocket and get the strip sack on Tom Brady in Week 6 against the Buccaneers. Pair that with the show he put on Bengals LT Jonah Williams, Highsmith has asserted himself as one of the better young pass rushers in the league today.
He still needs to work on being more consistent at generating pressure and finishing the play, but Highsmith has done well in his third season thus far and will only play better when he has a respectable pass rusher across from him once Watt comes back hopefully after the bye.