The Steelers added a solid rotational pass rusher and special teamer with the upside of a future starter at the end of the 3rd round
With the 102nd pick in the NFL draft, the Steelers select Alex Highsmith, OLB, Charlotte.
After handing Bud Dupree, the franchise tag this offseason, the Steelers went out and added Highsmith at the end of the third round. While the starters are still set for 2020, Highsmith is a player that should factor in for beyond this year.
While at Charlotte, Highsmith made 185 tackles, 46 TFL, and 20 sacks in his four years in school. Last year, he posted an impressive stat line of 75/21.5/14 (tackles, TFLs, sacks) while simply dominating his competition level. That said, he played in the C-USA conference, one that isn’t known to play against the top-level competition.
That said when he has played against top-level competition like Clemson and Tennessee, and he still played well. While the level of competition is a bit of a concern, it shouldn’t be a big focus considering he has played against some of the better teams at the college level.
Looking at his pros, Highsmith has some pop as an athlete and a relentless motor while on the field. This should show up early on special teams for him, as he should look to replace the impact Anthony Chickallo had on special teams. That said, his value goes well beyond that, as he is a far superior pass rusher than Chickallo was.
Looking at his rushing skills, Highsmith is a smart and instinctual player who uses his hands very well to beat linemen. He isn’t the biggest guy on the field, so he relies more on his football knowledge to win. His hand usage is violent which helps attribute to the success he sees rushing the QB.
On top of this, he knows how to bend and dip around the edge, a key trait for any successful OLB in the Steelers system. Think back to Jarvis Jones for a player who simply couldn’t bend around the edge. That was one of the key reasons he didn’t see much success rushing the passer.
Looking at his negatives, Highsmith’s size and strength are below average for what he will need to succeed in the NFL. He will need a year in the NFL weight room to bulk up and get his strength up. This is common for most college prospects though, and it shouldn’t be a huge concern now that he is dealing with NFL weight rooms.
As well, Highsmith needs to find a secondary pass rush move. He can be a little too dependent on trying to win 1 on 1 vs the OT. He won’t see that same success vs NFL linemen though, meaning he needs to develop better ways to counter OTs. His game intelligence should help in this though, as he can continue to develop some more pass-rushing moves as time goes on.
His early fit with the Steelers will be on special teams. There, he can utilize his feisty nature and overall athleticism blocking punts and chasing down returners. As well, he should be on the field as a rotational piece, competing with Olasunkanmi Adeniyi for backup snaps. He has a lot of upside though, as his pass-rushing skill set is solid. Assuming he can bulk up in his first year, he could be a starter down the road.
Highsmith is a high floor/moderate ceiling option at OLB. If Bud Dupree isn’t retained past this season, there is a very real chance Highsmith could take over as a starter. He doesn’t scream double-digit sacks, unfortunately, but more so a Jordan Jenkins type 6-9 sacks a season guy. Considering the Steelers already have T.J. Watt, this should be more than adequate. Don’t be surprised to see Highsmith starting next year if Dupree isn’t signed to a long term deal.