PITTSBURGH — Steelers outside linebacker Alex Highsmith is coming off a 14.5 sack season and, as such, earned a massive contract this offseason to stay with the team long-term on the other side of T.J. Watt. Despite only having 2.5 sacks coming into Thursday, Highsmith racked up two against Andre Dillard to push his total to 4.5. Despite not being on pace for the same amount he reached last year, is Highsmith leveling up?
There’s evidence piling up that he just might be. For one, Alex Highsmith leads the NFL in pressures with 49. He posted a whopping 11 pressures against the Titans, terrorizing Will Levis and the Titans’ offensive line. If you are into niche stats, his sacks are incredibly important, too, as Highsmith has earned the most win probability added from his sacks out of any edge rusher in the NFL.
Highsmith has four games with seven or more pressures. That puts him in elite company, with only the Cowboys’ Micah Parsons in the same stratosphere. Certainly, Watt, on the other side, helps, but these guys are playing like goons out there. Highsmith is taking a leap that started to manifest in training camp this year, but when he was being paid like a fringe Top-15 edge rusher, he is beginning to prove that was the right call.
Pittsburgh has won games in large part, not just because of Watt but because Highsmith has stepped into that void to become an elite player. It’s no longer just Watt and Cam Heyward. Nowadays, Highsmith gets his name mentioned right alongside those players.
His speed-to-power is impressive, but it is his speed rush and ghost move that stands out. Lastly, the spin move, inspired by the original user who popularized the move, Dwight Freeney, pops on the tape. Highsmith has not just a bag but a deep one that he can pull from against tackles. Those stats tell just one part of the story, but Watt has to appreciate Highsmith becoming better than just a Robin to Batman. Highsmith is stepping into his own as one of the game’s ascending edge rushers at 26. His prime years are only starting to hit, and Highsmith looks like a player developing into a better player each year.