When the Steelers took Outside Linebacker Alex Highsmith with the 102nd pick in the 2020 draft, he was relatively unknown. The pick was met with much criticism and a lot of questions due to him not being a “household” name. Yes, Bud Dupree was on a one-year deal after being tagged, but was this the guy to replace him? The team was low on draft capital last year, so Highsmith was actually the team’s second selection. Let’s take an in-depth look at the person and player the Steelers got.
An Interesting Background
What’s with the title, you ask? Funny enough, the Wilmington, North Carolina native actually did appear on the popular series Dawson’s Creek as a baby. There are photos of him being held by Katie Holmes. This was just the beginning of his journey to stardom!
He was a three-sport athlete in high school and was “All-Area” in both baseball and football. Highsmith was lightly recruited out of high school, however. He only received offers from Davidson and Furman, though he instead opted to walk on at Charlotte; a university who just began competing in football in 2013. The Charlotte program has just recently started to garner some attention due to the likes of Highsmith making it to the highest level. They compete in Conference USA (not a Power 5 conference), which is a hurdle for players looking to get drafted.
As a redshirt freshman, he played in all 12 of the 49ers games and finished the season with 17 tackles and a sack. Highsmith saw his role increase during his redshirt sophomore season, finishing the year with 33 tackles with 5.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and one fumble recovery. He was named a starter at defensive end as a redshirt junior and was named first team All-Conference USA after setting a school record with 17.5 tackles for loss along with 60 total tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles. He was again named first team All-Conference USA and was also a third team All-America selection as a senior after setting new school records with 15 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss.
Highsmith saw his draft stock shoot up over the last couple of seasons. Playing with a chip on his shoulder with a motor that never stops, he had all the intangibles you want in a pass rusher. He did well for himself and put him firmly in the conversation of becoming a Day 2 pick.
Alex Highsmith, Pittsburgh Steeler
His lifelong dreams became a reality when the Steelers selected Alex Highsmith at pick 102 in the 3rd round of the 2020 NFL Draft. His role was pretty clear early on. He would be a key member of special teams and provide a breather for T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. He notched his first career interception against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in Week 8 and his first career sack against the Cowboys the following week. Highsmith has been able to learn from the best pass rushing duo in the league. It was clear he was going to embrace any role he was put in.
His role became pivotal when Bud Dupree suffered a torn ACL in Week 12 against the Ravens. Dupree’s season came to a sudden end and the next man up was none other than Alex Highsmith. He started his first game in Week 13 against Washington and continues to get better each week.
Highsmith still carries that walk-on mindset and continues to benefit on gamedays because of it. He treats each snap like it’s his last and his work ethic shines through every week. A friend inside the organization has told me he is that “First guy in, last guy out” type of guy. When he isn’t on the field, he’s going over the tape and looking for ways he can improve his game. The aforementioned interception is a huge testament of his ability to learn from his mistakes and do so in quick fashion. It was unfortunate to see Bud Dupree’s season and possibly Steeler career come to the abrupt end, but it’s given us an extended look into our future.
The next great Steelers pass rusher?
Alex Highsmith is not just the future of the Steelers, he’s also the present. He continues to improve and has really started to show he belongs. He left his stamp on the Steelers comeback win over the Colts to secure the AFC North with a spin move to generate pressure, directly resulting in a Phillip Rivers game-ending interception. The pressures, hurries, and knockdowns continue to pile up. As he polishes his game, the sacks will follow.
I had the opportunity to interview Alex and his dad, Sam, this past summer. He’s an even better person than he is player. Kudos to his parents for raising him the way they did and continue to do. We got a good one in black and gold, folks, on and off the field.