Steelers may have found a diamond in the rough in OLB Alex Highsmith

Alex Highsmith #56 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Alex Highsmith #56 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) /

Rookie Alex Highsmith just gave the Steelers his best game of the season. Here’s why the outside linebacker could be a diamond in the rough.

This is hardly the first article I’ve written on Steelers rookie outside linebacker, Alex Highsmith, and it certainly won’t be the last. I seem to find more good things to say about the former small-school standout after each passing week. Against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 9, Highsmith put up his best performance of the season.

Despite playing just 12 defensive snaps, Highsmith was thoroughly impressive. While the rest of Pittsburgh’s defense appeared to be sleeping for much of the game, it was the third-round rookie who earned the defensive performance of the afternoon:

In Week 8 against the Baltimore Ravens, Highsmith logged 25 snaps and was the 4th-highest-graded edge defender in the entire NFL last week with an overall grade of 88.7, according to Pro Football Focus. This week, he continued to build on his already impressive grade for his best two-game stretch of the season.

Why is the Steelers rookie doing so well?

As a former college walk-on at Charlotte, Alex Highsmith knows as well as anyone that nothing comes easy. After working his way up the ladder to become one of the most productive edge defenders in college football, Highsmith knew that getting drafted was just the first step.

Now on the Steelers, we see Highsmith put in the same level of effort he did back in college, and his scrappy, go-get-it demeanor has already paid dividends. But his ability stretches far beyond his relentless motor. Though he played almost solely with his hand in the dirt at Charlotte, Highsmith is a plus athlete, and he has moved better in space than anyone could have expected. Last week while in zone coverage, Highsmith effortlessly read the play and intercepted a pass from Ravens quarterback, Lamar Jackson.

Highsmith has now recorded his first interception and his first sack in back-to-back games. While the splash plays may not come every week, it’s great to know that he’s taking advantage of every opportunity he gets on defense. The rookie outside linebacker is like a Swiss Army knife on defense. He can lineup all over the field, and he has dropped into coverage on 13 of his 85 NFL snaps so far.

Moving forward, Highsmith is only going to continue to gain the trust of his coaching staff, thanks to his remarkable football IQ and terrific effort on every play.

By the end of the season, don’t be surprised if Highsmith carves out a regular rotational role. He has given us plenty of confidence as to why he could be Bud Dupree’s successor after the 2020 season as he continues to impress. The Steelers may have found a diamond in the rough when they drafted Alex Highsmith.