Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Alex Highsmith is entering his pivotal third year, and joined SiriusXM NFL Radio earlier this week to share his goals for 2022.
“I gotta hit those double-digit sack markers,” Highsmith said earlier this week. “And so I’m just gonna do whatever I can. I’ve been working my butt off this offseason. Just be the best player that I can be. I’m in great shape right now. Feel great. … I know the goal that I’ve had for this year is that 10-to-12 sack mark and just continuing to make plays in the run game.”
Highsmith recorded six sacks last season, his first as a full-time starter. He also accounted for 74 combined tackles, 15 tackles-for-loss and 15 quarterback hits.
It is encouraging to hear Highsmith has his sights set on a breakout season, as that leap in production would take the Steelers’ as a whole from good back to great.
While a standout year would certainly mean big things for Highsmith’s young career individually, it would also make his teammates around him that much better.
Think about it.
T.J. Watt led the league in sacks and earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors without a legitimate pash rushing threat mirroring him on the opposite side of Pittsburgh’s defensive line.
Imagine what Watt would be capable of with a consistent Highsmith making plays alongside him. That is frightening.
Defensive tackles Cam Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi would reap the rewards of increased one-on-ones and less attention as well.
Pittsburgh would have a hard time repeating as the league’s worst run defense with a group including those names and a Highsmith’s beginning to reach his potential.
Highsmith’s impact would not just be limited to the defensive front either, as the Steelers’ secondary could see prosperity too.
The unit already sees advantages in coverage from the pressure generated by Watt and Heyward.
Adding a steady Highsmith to the mix means more potential opportunities for Minkah Fitzpatrick, Levi Wallace and others to make game-altering plays in the passing game.
The Steelers have been a solid defense in recent years. They consistently pace the league in sacks. They are always one of the be at in forcing turnovers as well. Their run defense has left much to be desired.
And that has all been without a actual secondary pass rusher.
A thunder to Watt’s lightning.
If Highsmith has the kind of breakout third year that he is forecasting and others are wishing for, Pittsburgh’s defense will join the ranks of the elite once again.