The Steelers elected to go with a small-school player in the third round of the NFL Draft. Here’s my player profile on edge defender, Alex Highsmith.
Drafting small-school players with good production in the third round is something that is starting to become a trend for the Steelers. In 2016, Pittsburgh struck gold with South Carolina State defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, and last year they took Toledo wide receiver Diontae Johnson in round three. This year, that trend continues with Charlotte edge defender, Alex Highsmith.
Highsmith, a former walk-on at Charlotte, shocked the nation as he climbed the latter and broke records to ultimately become a mid-round draft choice into the NFL. His production was outstanding as a senior when he recorded 75 tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss and 15.0 sacks. Still, the jump in competition from the CUSA conference to the NFL will be substantial. Here is my player profile on Highsmith:
EDGE Alex Highsmith, Charlotte
- Incredibly motivated to be the best, former college walk-on to third-round NFL draft pick
- Remarkable production with 40.0 tackles for a loss and 18.0 sacks over the past two seasons
- Already possesses an array of pass rush moves
- Plays faster than his testing numbers indicate
- Excellent bend and dip around the edge
- Instinctive against the run, physical tackler
- Relentless player with a hunger to get after the ball carrier
- Fluid and smooth with rush moves and change of direction
- Jump in competition level will be his biggest challenge
- Thin frame for the position, needs to gain NFL play strength
- Fast hands a speed rusher, but needs to be more violent with them
- Padded stats against a few poor teams
- Athletic measurables were good but not great
- Just average size and length for an edge defender
Alex Highsmith’s fit in Pittsburgh
As a third-round draft choice, there’s no question that Highsmith is making the team, and he will likely be active on game day from the start of the season. He will compete from the gate with Ola Adeniyi as the primary backup at outside linebacker for the Steelers.
If Adeniyi seems to be more NFL ready, Highsmith will begin the season as the fourth outside linebacker on the team, but he has a chance to carve an Antony-Chickillo-like role by the end of his rookie season. Bud Dupree’s future is still very much uncertain, and if Highsmith can prove himself worthy, he could have a chance to compete for a starting job opposite of T.J. Watt in 2021.
Pro Comparision: Uchenna Nwosu
Uchenna Nwosu wasn’t a small-school player like Highsmith coming into the NFL (he started at USC). However, their play style and athletic traits are very similar to each other. Nwosu tested as solid, but not great, athlete coming into the draft, but showed excellent speed and dip as a rusher in college.
Nwosu wasn’t nearly as productive as Highsmith in college, but there is an obvious difference in the level of competition from the CUSA conference to the Pac-12. Nwosu plays somewhat of a hybrid role for the Chargers, and Highsmith has shown the versatility to move around the formation and rush from both a two and three-point stance. Nwosu was a former 2nd round draft choice, and both players possess a similar upside in the NFL.
Overall, Alex Highsmith is a small-school edge defender with a fairly high upside and a reasonably high floor thanks to his play speed and relentless motor. He should have the chance to develop into a solid rotational rusher for the Steelers with an outside chance to become a starter a year or two down the line.