OLB Alex Highsmith is in position to secure the bag this offseason.
Rightfully so. The third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft is heading into his fourth season and broke out in 2022 to the tune of 63 total tackles, 12 TFLs, 14.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, 20 QB hits, and a PBU.
Still, after hitting his goal of double-digit sacks in 2022 and more than doubling his previous season high of six, Highsmith isn’t satisfied with what he put on tape last season as he prepares for 2023.
“I was just watching my game film throughout the offseason,” Highsmith said to the media Tuesday on video from Steelers.com. “I played far from my best ball. I have so much more in me than I did last year. There were some games where I wasn’t producing like I should and honestly, I feel like I could play into another level and a whole lot better. And so, I’m just coming out to prove that this year, so just continue to build on what I did last year. And so, I know I can be way better than I was last year.”
Just as the 2022 season wrapped up in January, Highsmith mentioned his goal heading into 2023 was to continue to get better and to not get complacent, knowing that getting comfortable in the National Football is a recipe for disaster. Well, it looks like Highsmith’s view on his last season hasn’t changed. Grateful for the success that he had as he looks to secure a long-term extension this summer, he desires to keep improving and take another step forward in 2023.
When you look at Highsmith’s 2022 season from a game log perspective, you notice a couple of ways that he can improve in 2023. Highsmith’s sacks often came in waves last season, having four multi-sack games, but he also would go stretches when he would record a sack or a QB hit. His success on the field also appeared to be tied to the presence of T.J. Watt across from him taking the attention of the defense. He recorded 11 sacks in games that Watt played last season compared to 3.5 sacks in the games that Watt didn’t play.
Highsmith is the ideal running mate you want across from Watt at OLB for Pittsburgh, but he can do a better job of winning his matchups this season independent of the presence of Watt. Obviously, having a player like Watt’s caliber on the field changes the blocking schemes of opposing offenses, but Highsmith must show that he can be the caliber of pass rusher that doesn’t need to rely on Watt’s presence to have big sack games.
Taking that next step as a pass rusher while also continuing to improve as a run defender will only make Highsmith that much better of a player, hopefully giving the Steelers a pass rushing duo on the edge in a similar mold as Watt and Bud Dupree a few years ago — or even James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley over a decade ago.