The Steelers missed out on the first wave of pass rushers by the time their third-round pick rolled around, but here’s why Alex Highsmith could be the discounted version of Zack Baun.
I was a really big fan of Wisconsin edge defender, Zack Baun coming into the NFL Draft. He had great film and terrific production at Wisconsin in addition to meeting the athletic thresholds. Though Baun did see his name slide into the top of the third round this year, he still went 28 picks higher than Pittsburgh’s selection at 102 overall. But did the Steelers find a discounted version of Zack Baun in Charlotte edge defender, Alex Highsmith?
Though Highsmith played at a much lower level of competition in the CUSA conference, the similarities are undeniable. Here are some of the numbers these two outside linebackers have in common:
As you can see, the similarities between these two defenders run deep. Though Highsmith is slightly bigger and longer than Baun, both have tweener size that makes them suited for a 3-4 team in the NFL or a hybrid SAM linebacker/edge rusher for a base 4-3 team.
When you look at the rest of the numbers, however, they are nearly identical. Baun and Highsmith both tested as good, but not great, athletes at the NFL Combine this year, and their numbers practically mirror each other.
Their senior production, remarkably, is even more similar with both players earning 75 tackles, roughly 20 tackles for a loss, and over 12 sacks. Though Highsmith’s numbers came against primarily lower competition, he also played one less game than Baun this year, and we could have seen these numbers go even higher had Charlotte played the 14th game in 2019.
Baun and Highsmith are also both known for being self-made players. Baun was a former quarterback and just a 3-star player coming out of high school, according to 247 Sports. Meanwhile, Highsmith was a former walk-on who climbed up the latter to become a record-setting player for Charlotte.
It’s hard to tell if both players will be used the same way in the NFL, but their bend, football IQ, and savvy pass rush moves made them both dominant players at the collegiate level.
Without elite size and physical gifts, both could prove to be better college players than high-ceiling NFL prospects, but both edge defenders bring a level of determination and leadership to the field that coaches undoubtedly covet.
We won’t know for a few years how either player will do at the next level, and the jump in competition probably won’t be an easy transition for Highsmith. Still, there is plenty of reason to believe that the Steelers may have got a discounted version of Zack Baun at pick 102 in the 2-2020 NFL Draft.