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CBS Sports revealed on Thursday their list of under-the-radar players in the AFC who have the potential to break out in 2021, and for the Steelers, they believe Alex Highsmith is the next outside linebacker in the organization who's going to make a name for himself.
"Bud Dupree is now a Titan and it looks like it will be Alex Highsmith who gets the luxury of starting opposite of T.J. Watt along Pittsburgh's front seven," Tyler Sullivan of CBS Sports wrote. Naturally, opposing offenses will be making it a priority to stop Watt, which then opens the door for Highsmith -- or anyone opposite him -- to see single coverage and possibly open avenues at the quarterback. The 2020 third-round pick did play well throughout his rookie season as well, totaling 12 pressure, two sacks and six hurries. When you combine that talent with this situation, Highsmith could be looked at as Pittsburgh's latest promising young pass rusher."
In the Steelers pre-draft press conference in late April, Mike Tomlin said he's looking for Alex Highsmith to next step in 2021.
“In regards to the loss of Bud and the expectations and the depth and things at that position, the lynchpin to that entire discussion is the natural maturation of Alex Highsmith from Year 1 to Year 2,” Tomlin said via Myles Simmons of Pro Football Talk. “You know the standard of expectations that we have for our young players moving from (Year) 1 to (Year) 2. He could be the poster boy for that. We need a significant rise in terms of all areas of play from him. But I also think it’s reasonable to expect it given what he’s been exposed to, given the quality young man that he is and his work ethic and the environment we intend to put him in. I think it’s reasonable to expect him to rise up and meet the challenges.”
Highsmith was drafted in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Steelers and appeared in all 16 games as a rookie, starting five. He recorded 48 total tackles, 30 of them being solos, five tackles for losses, six quarterback hits, two sacks and an interception in his rookie campaign.
Earlier this month, Cynthia Frelund of NFL.com listed Highsmith as one of the NFL's most underappreciated players.
"In his rookie season, the third-rounder made a tackle on nearly 10 percent of his snaps (9.9 percent tackle rate). This was the second-highest rate among edge defenders last season (min. 400 snaps)," Frelund wrote of Highsmith. "While I don't expect his rate to stay that high -- with the departure of Bud Dupree, he'll play a higher volume of snaps and have a more visible role that will command more attention -- but I do expect big things to continue. The two main reasons for that: 1) In terms of his speed in the first 3 yards traveled, Highsmith ranked in the top 10 percent in 2020; and 2) his hips stayed facing the quarterback even after contact at a rate in the top 15 percent (this helps predict recovery and pursuit of pressure)."