Pittsburgh Steelers third-year outside linebacker Alex Highsmith is having himself a breakout season of sorts. He recently hit 10 sacks with five games left to play in the season, and his four forced fumbles continue to lead the league. The fans at least are acknowledging his efforts, as according to the NFL, he is running second in the fan voting in the AFC for the Pro Bowl at his position behind the New England Patriots’ Matt Judon. (You’ll have to open the image in a new tab to see it better if you’re having trouble reading it; first column, third row is OLBs).
While Pittsburgh is set to lose its crown as the sack kings of the league after reigning for the past five years, Highsmith has done his part to keep the team’s pass rush alive with T.J. Watt missing most of the season due to injury and now playing at less than 100 percent.
The team had two new first-time Pro Bowlers last season with then-rookie running back Najee Harris and wide receiver Diontae Johnson, so Highsmith making it this year would make it two in a row in which they send new representatives after they had five repeat players in 2020.
As you already know, veteran safety Minkah Fitzpatrick leads the entire league in fan voting for the Pro Bowl at the free safety position. second-year tight end Pat Freiermuth is currently fourth in the AFC in fan voting at his position, but unfortunately Pro Bowl rosters only feature two at the position, and he’s playing in a conference with Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews.
Outside of those three, the only Steeler to crack the top 10 in fan voting at his position is…drumroll please…fullback Derek Watt, who currently sit sixth in the league and fourth in the AFC behind the Dolphins’ Alec Ingold, the Ravens, Patrick Ricard, and the Bills’ Reggie Gilliam.
As for Watt, his injury will likely prevent him from making his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl at this point, as time is limited for him to gain ground, and there have been plenty of quality outside linebackers this year. The Ravens’ Justin Houston and the Chargers’, Khalil Mack are third and fourth in AFC voting, respectively, and only three make it.
Pittsburgh has not send two outside linebackers to the Pro Bowl in the same year since 2010 when both James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley made it, Woodley’s only Pro Bowl. Perhaps the duo of Watt and Highsmith can achieve that feat next year.
As you may recall, there is no longer an actual ‘Pro Bowl’ game played, though there will be a flag football game conducted following a weekend of skill competition events. The league finally put the exhibition game out of its misery earlier this year.
Truth be told, as a result of that, I’m not 100 percent sure whether or not there will still be alternates selected as I can’t find any concrete information about that. It was announced that fan voting has been extended to later in the year than previous, so that could help somebody like Watt make a late push. Fan voting makes up one third of the total voting, with coaches and players wielding the other two thirds.