2022 South Side Questions: Is Alex Highsmith Better Than Bud Dupree Was At His Best?

The Steelers are at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, informally known as the South Side facility, now into the regular season. It’s where they otherwise train all year round, and the facility that Burt Lauten insists everybody refers to by its full name.

There are still unsettled questions that need answering, even deep into the regular season. They entered the process with questions in the starting lineup, in the scheme, and elsewhere, but new problems always arise that need to be resolved.

Even questions about who’s starting and when may not have satisfactory answers in their finality, as midseason changes are certainly quite possible, for some positions more than others. We’re also feeling out how the new coordinator posts—or posts in new contexts—end up playing out.

There’s never any shortage of questions when it comes to football, and we’ll be discussing them here on a daily basis for the community to “talk amongst yourselves,” as Linda Richman might say on Coffee Talk.

Question: Is Alex Highsmith better than Bud Dupree was at his best?

A pretty straightforward question, I think. Two of the most prominent outside linebackers the Steelers have drafted in the past decade. Both of them have had success, now each having officially achieved the feat of posting double-digit sacks in a season—which, let’s be honest, is the measuring stick almost everybody uses to rate pass rushers.

Bud Dupree was the Steelers’ first-round draft pick in 2015. Although he was slowed by injuries for most of his rookie contract after his first season, he eventually came on and played quite well in his final two seasons before leaving for a big-money contract.

Pittsburgh drafted Alex Highsmith in Dupree’s final season in 2020 while under the franchise tag with the idea in mind that he would be able to grow into a replacement for him. He has done that decisively—but is he even better than his predecessor was at this best?

Now, Dupree’s career with the Tennessee Titans hasn’t exactly seen him pick up where he left off, and again injuries have played a major role in that. But we’re not talking about Dupree today. We’re talking about the best of Dupree, the 2019-20 Dupree.

And we’re talking about Alex Highsmith right now, the 2022 Highsmith, the one who has 10 sacks and four forced fumbles in 11 games along with eight tackles for loss. Both of them were complete players during their time in Pittsburgh, able to play the run and to even drop in coverage, though they have gotten away from asking their edge players to drop much in the past couple of years.

The defense didn’t play very well while T.J. Watt missed seven games earlier this year, but Highsmith was one of the few bright spots during that streak. Yes, he’s played better when Watt has also been on the field, but who doesn’t? It was Highsmith who clinched Monday’s game by taking over the final drive.

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