Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers are deep into the 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 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: The third-year pass rusher closed out the season on a high note, finishing with another two and a half sacks in a finale against the Cleveland Browns, even if it felt like it could have been more. That gives him 14.5 sacks for the season, more than doubling his output last season.
How many players in Steelers’ history had recorded at least 14.5 sacks in a single season entering 2022? The answer, at least since the sack became an official statistic, was three, even if one player—T.J. Watt—managed to do it three times by himself.
The list has swollen now to four after Alex Highsmith’s 2.5 sacks in Sunday’s regular season finale bumped him up past 14 for the season. His 14.5 sacks this year are now tied for the fifth-most sacks in a single season in franchise history.
Watt set the team record (and tied the NFL record) last season with 22.5 sacks, but before 2021, nobody had more than James Harrison’s 16 in 2008. That broke a team record that stood since 1984, the third year of the sack era as an official stat, when Mike Merriweather recorded 15.
Watt matched Merriweather’s 15 in 2020, and hit 14.5 in 2019, giving him first place, a tie for third place, and now a tie for fifth place with Highsmith for the Steelers’ all-time single-season sack list. That’s pretty impressive even if he had to make full use of his 17-game schedule to get there.
Of course, Highsmith’s game is not just about sacks. He’s also a stout run defender. He finished the season with 63 tackles, including 12 for loss, and his five forced fumbles led the NFL. And he’s entering his fourth season in 2023.
You know what that means. It’s time for the front office to try to find a way to get him locked up for the long haul. They already have Watt signed to a huge contract for the next few years, on a deal that they can always restructure to create a boatload of cap space. But after the season he’s had, it is fair to wonder how much it will cost to keep him.