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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: Getting T.J. Watt back on the other side of him will be a boon for fellow pass rusher T.J. Watt specifically, as well as for the defense as a whole. Teams will be committing a lot more help to Watt’s side now, giving Highsmith more opportunities for a one-on-one rush. And Watt’s rushes will help funnel plays to his side, as well. More than Malik Reed did, anyway.

Alex Highsmith, to his credit, has more sacks through the first half of this season than he did all of last year. That’s notable, admirable. But a significant jump was always expected, indeed, required. And the reality is that only 3.5 of those sacks have come in the past seven weeks.

The biggest difference during that time was of course the absence of T.J. Watt. The 2021 Defensive Player of the Year, Watt as a difference-maker can perhaps be best illustrated by observing how the defense has performed since he has been gone.

Now, Highsmith has been one of the unit’s better contributors during this stretch, without a doubt. There is no question that he has been a positive asset during this time and not a liability. But everybody should be able to be more effective getting such an important component back—and not relying on, at best, replacement-level substitutes

Nobody may benefit more and more directly than Highsmith, who now should be expected to face fewer double teams than he had been getting in recent weeks. That will allow him to have cleaner one-on-one battles with the left tackle, making it easier to set up moves throughout the game with greater predictability.

The Steelers need a potent dual pass rush off of both edges. Highsmith has tried to do his best to hold up his end, but those on the opposite side of him have offered very little. It’s not just getting Watt back into the lineup; it’s replacing the weakest part of the unit as well, a key position that has held other areas back as a result.

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