Third-year Pittsburgh Steelers edge rusher Alex Highsmith recorded a total of eight sacks during his first two years in the NFL, according to Pro Football Reference. This year he says he’s aiming to record at least 10, which doesn’t seem unrealistic, considering that 2021 Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt starts opposite him, and opposing offenses also have to contend with first-team All-Pro defensive lineman Cam Heyward.
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Highsmith Hopes to Record ‘Double-Digit’ Sacks in 2022
“I gotta hit those double-digit sack markers,” Highsmith told SiriusXM NFL Radio on July 11, as per Steelers Depot. “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.”
The good news is: there’s no reason to think that Highsmith’s game has peaked. The former third-round pick started five of 16 games as a rookie, when he recorded 48 tackles (30 solo), including five tackles for loss, two sacks, six quarterback hits and an interception. That was good enough for him to be named to Pro Football Focus’ 2020 All-Rookie Team.
But he was much more productive in his second year, when he started 16 games and finished with 74 tackles (46 solo), including 15 tackles for loss, 15 quarterback hits and six sacks, not to mention a forced fumble. This despite the fact that he battled a nagging injury or two, including an early-season groin injury and a “bad contusion” that he suffered against the Vikings in December. He’s just entering his prime, too, as he won’t turn 25 until August 7.
More notably, still, there isn’t another outside linebacker on the roster who seems capable of taking playing time away from him.
Former Broncos seventh-round pick Derrek Tuszka is arguably the top backup at OLB, but Tuszka had only two sacks in 247 defensive snaps last season. The next-best option is former Eagles linebacker Genard Avery, but Avery has just 7.5 sacks in five NFL seasons.
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin could also trot out Delontae Scott, who made his NFL debut against the Los Angeles Chargers in November 2021. Then there’s 2019 “camp phenom” Tuzar Skipper, who returned to the Steelers in early June of this year. Last but not least, there’s rookie undrafted free agent Tyree Johnson (Texas A&M), who has been named an “UDFA to watch.”
Naturally, it would be as good a time as any for Highsmith to show that he can be a true impact player, as his rookie contract is set to expire following the 2023 season. According to overthecap.com, Highsmith will earn a salary of $961,000 in 2022. His salary rises to $1.089 million in 2023, a year in which he is scheduled to count $1,297,073 against the salary cap.
Highsmith — who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 242 pounds — was selected No. 102 overall out of Charlotte in 2020.
The Steelers Have a Roster Spot Open
Meanwhile, it’s likely that the Steelers will be signing a defensive player before the start of training camp. A spot opened up earlier this week when defensive end Daniel Archibong was placed on the Reserve/Retired list, this according to Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network.
Archibong appeared in two games for the Steelers in 2021, and signed a one-year Reserve/Futures contract in January.
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