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Alex Highsmith’s Breakout Season Was A Testament To His Endurance

Alex Highsmith’s numbers sure catch your eye. 14.5 sacks. Five forced fumbles. An obvious breakout year. But there’s a stat he had more impressive than either of those figures.

88.5.

That’s the percentage of defensive snaps Highsmith played this season. Among EDGE rushers, it’s nearly the best in the league.

In fact, Highsmith’s 88.5% defensive snap share is the second-highest of any defensive end or EDGE rusher in football only trialing Las Vegas’ Maxx Crosby who logged an incredible 96.3% this season. Here’s the top-five marks across the league this season.

Highest Snap Count %, DL/EDGE Rusher

1. Maxx Crosby – 96.3%
2. Alex Highsmith – 88.5%
3. Leonard Floyd – 85.7%
4. Aidan Hutchinson – 84.3%
5. Brian Burns – 82.3%

Availability isn’t just about being healthy enough to play in games, though that’s obviously foundational and critical. But how much you’re able to play within the game is another overlooked aspect. Without T.J. Watt for the first half of the season, the Steelers needed Highsmith and leaned on him as much as they possibly could. An injured Watt meant anytime Highsmith came off the field to catch his breath the Steelers wouldn’t have either of their top two pass rushers. Depth here was meager with Malik Reed, Jamir Jones, Ryan Anderson, names that didn’t inspire much confidence and certainly not a lot of production.

Highsmith played at least 80% of the snaps in all 17 games this season. In seven games, he sat above 90% and in Week 17’s must-win over the Baltimore Ravens, he played every single defensive snap. Only 52 of them total, the overall number wasn’t huge, but a perfect figure that’s rare to see. It’s not like he got a chance to ease into the season either. He played 83 snaps in the Week One overtime win against the Cincinnati Bengals. From there, Watt was down, Highsmith was needed, and the season was off to the races.

What Highsmith did requires a top-level amount of conditoning. It proves his professionalism. To have himself mentally and physically ready for the season. That work isn’t just about what you do on gameday. That’s the reward, the payoff. It’s getting treatment early in the week, getting in cold tub, eating right, sleeping well, staying on a strict schedule to do what it takes to be available and not wear down by season’s end, especially now that there’s an extra game to absorb.

The numbers are nice, the sacks, the splash plays, but to do that as an everydown player makes it all the more impressive. It’s why he’s in line for a mega contract extension this summer.

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