2023 Stock Watch – OLB Alex Highsmith – Stock Up

Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 season is over, the team finishing above .500 but failing to make the postseason, we turn our attention to the offseason and everything that means. One thing that it means is that some stock evaluations are going to start taking on broader contexts, reflecting on a player’s development, either positively or negatively, over the course of the season. Other evaluations will reflect only one immediate event or trend. The nature of the evaluation, whether short-term or long-term, will be noted in the reasoning section below.

Player: OLB Alex Highsmith

Stock Value: Up

Reasoning: The third-year outside linebacker was arguably the Steelers’ most improved player on the season from one year to the next, leading the team with 14.5 sacks and five forced fumbles. He arguably deserved to be a Pro Bowler and All-Pro, even if he didn’t get the recognition for it.

How much money did Alex Highsmith earn for himself this year? It’s a question we may well be finding out later this summer as his agent and the Steelers’ front office begin to talk contract negotiations. While he is still signed through the 2023 season, they will want to get an extension done if possible.

It takes two to tango on that front, however, and I’m sure Highsmith knows the value of the numbers that he just put up this year. If you remove T.J. Watt from the equation, his 14.5 sacks are the third-most anybody has put up in team history behind James Harrison and Mike Merriweather.

What’s more, he proved his endurance, logging 941 snaps on the season without missing a game. He never played less than 80 percent of the snaps in any one game, which is remarkable, often hitting north of 90 percent.

A complete player as comfortable setting the edge as he is throwing a spin move to get after the passer, Highsmith has demonstrated that he is capable of being a high-performing full-time starter, although one question lingers, even if they don’t technically need an answer to it.

The fact still remains that the Steelers were bad when Watt wasn’t out there, going 1-6 in the seven games he missed. Even if Highsmith was one of the few bright spots during that run, he alone couldn’t make up the difference.

We must consider, though, that Watt plays with Highsmith when he’s out there. Who did Highsmith play with when Watt was out? Malik Reed, who got benched by the end of the year. Jamir Jones, who is a journeyman the team cut a year earlier in favor of another outside linebacker long gone. Maybe if the Steelers had a more competent third rusher, Highsmith’s time as the top dog wouldn’t have been so dreary.

But, as stated, that’s fortunately a question we don’t have to answer, at least not anytime soon. As it is, Watt is still under contract for the next three years, and if he’s still playing well by then, you know Pittsburgh will get him on the books.

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