Buy Or Sell: Alex Highsmith Had A ‘Quiet’ 14.5-Sack Season

With the Steelers’ 2022 season unfortunately now in the rearview mirror, a 9-8 campaign that came up short too late in spite of a strong second half, we now turn our attention to the offseason, and the many decisions that will have to be made over the course of the next several months.

This is now a young team on the offensive side of the ball, though one getting older on defense, and both sides could stand to be supplemented robustly, including in the trenches—either one. Decisions about the coaching staff must also be made, as well as who to prioritize in free agency, and what to look for from the outside, before getting to the draft.

These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).

Topic Statement: Alex Highsmith had a ‘quiet’ 14.5-sack season.

Explanation: This is a theme that I have seen describing third-year outside linebacker Alex Highsmith’s output in 2022. Although he finished the season with 14.5 sacks (including three half-sacks, so 16 sacks in which he was involved in total) and shared the NFL lead with five forced fumbles, the perception is that his actual impact on games and on the season as a whole was comparatively minor.


We can’t have this conversation without touching on the T.J. Watt discussion, and yes, the Steelers did a lot worse when he wasn’t there, and Highsmith didn’t play at as high a level with Watt on the sideline either.

In spite of the fact that Watt only had one forced fumble and two interceptions, the Steelers didn’t produce without him. They only had five takeaways in the seven games he missed, and just eight sacks. They were 1-6 in those games.

Highsmith actually had a bigger impact on the run last season than he did this year, as well. He put up numbers, sure. Relatively few of them, at least those after the first quarter, actually came in close games, however.


Highsmith had six third-down sacks, or rather five and a half, which was in the top 10 in the NFL. And we can’t measure the impact of forced fumbles simply on whether or not they were recovered, because that is largely out of the initial defender’s hands. It’s not Highsmith’s fault the defense couldn’t recover the balls he put on the ground.

He was also about the only semblance of defense that the Steelers seemed to have while Watt was out, or at least that of the pass rush. It’s an insult to call his season a ‘quiet’ one. Was it really so much more quiet than Watt’s 14.5-sack season in 2019, or his 13-sack season from the year previous? This is simply a matter of Highsmith being penalized for the team’s overall performance and for the stature of his teammate.

Also, remember: Watt has put up his numbers playing with Highsmith and Bud Dupree. He didn’t have to play with Malik Reed and Jamir Jones. I’m not saying they’re equally good, but it makes a difference in your own performance who else is out there.

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