Entering his third season in the NFL and second season overall as a starter, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Alex Highsmith was aiming for double-digit sacks opposite reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt.
Despite Watt missing a number of games, putting more attention on Highsmith, the young pass rusher had a breakout season, surpassing his preseason goal of 10.0 sacks, finishing his third season with a career-high 14.5 sacks for the black and gold.
Those numbers should have put him in line for an AFC Pro Bowl bid, but Highsmith was passed over multiple times for the honor, including by his own teammate in Watt. Nevertheless, the All-AFC defender isn’t worried about individual accolades and is instead looking ahead to a big fourth season in the black and gold, aiming to stay hungry and humble after a dominant season off the edge.
“I think for me, this is really just a big year for me because I really wanted to make that year three jump. I feel like a lot of players do that in their career,” Highsmith said in an interview with WCNC’s Nick Carboni in a one-on-one interview. “Last year was my first year starting so, still figuring things out and stuff like that. But this year I knew that this had to be the year to take a big jump and I did that.
“I still would like to play a lot better. There’s games that I watch and, overall, I just feel like I have so much more in the tank than I did this year. And so I just wanna always have that mindset and that attitude that no matter how I play in the game, whether it’s two sacks, three sacks, no sacks, I wanna always feel like I can play better. Because I feel like you never wanna get complacent and get comfortable because when you do, that’s when God stops the seating. So I just want to continue to stay hungry and humble.”
When Watt was in the lineup last season, Highsmith was a game-wrecker, recording 10.5 of his 14.5 sacks on the season, including four of his NFL-leading five forced fumbles on the year. Having a true dominant player like Watt on the other side of the defense certainly helped Highsmith out, in terms of attention paid to the other side of the defense.
Without Watt in the lineup, Highsmith recorded just 4.0 sacks in the seven games Watt missed. That’s not a bad number overall and owl have put him right around 10.0 sacks on the season if Watt missed the entire year. However, the lack of production and splash plays was a bit noticeable from Highsmith without Watt on the other side.
He had more left in the tank, like he said, but he also could have played a bit better in certain matchups without Watt, like the losses to the Bills and Dolphins in which Highsmith combined for just two tackles in those games.
How he attacks the offseason entering Year 4 coming off of a breakout season, which has him in line for a lucrative extension ahead of he 2023 season, will be very interesting to watch. Based on the way he’s progressed in his first two seasons as a starter opposite Watt, the sky is the limit for the Charlotte product.
Staying hungry and humble won’t be a problem for Highsmith.