The Pittsburgh Steelers earned two Pro Bowl nominations when the NFL announced the final All-Star roster on December 21. The Steelers also have four Pro Bowl alternates, but one of those alternates, outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, is arguably one of the biggest Pro Bowl snubs this season.
Highsmith has at least a share of the team lead in multiple statistical categories this season, including sacks, tackles for loss, and forced fumbles. His 5 forced fumbles leads the entire NFL, and his 11.0 sacks are tied for seventh in the league.
“Alex Highsmith is one of nine NFL players who have recorded 11+ sacks this season,” football editor Daniel Valente of The Score wrote in a Twitter post. “He’s the only one who didn’t get voted to the Pro Bowl.
Fan voting is a major factor in earning a spot on the Pro Bowl roster, but it’s not the only factor. CBS Sports’ Jordan Dajani noted that Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa led all players in fan voting, but did not make the roster.
The two Steelers who did make the Pro Bowl roster were safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and outside linebacker T.J. Watt. Along with Highsmith, Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth, defensive tackle Cameron Hayward and fullback Derek Watt are the team’s Pro Bowl alternates.
The Pro Bowl Argument for Highsmith Over Watt
Watt has finished Top 3 in Defensive Player of the Year voting each of the last three years. He won the award last year while tying the single-season sack record with 22.5 sacks.
There’s no denying Watt is one of the best players in the league. But he’s only played 7 games this season and dealt with multiple injuries even when dressed. It’s led to less production for the 3-time first-team All-Pro linebacker. He has 4.0 sacks and 5 tackles for loss in 7 contests.
Based on the statistics, it’s impossible to justify Watt is having a better season than Highsmith. The younger Highsmith has passed the eye test more than Watt too if for nothing else but because Highsmith has been available for every game.
It’s not surprising that Watt would get more attention in fan voting because he’s a much bigger name than Highsmith. The 25-year-old linebacker is only in his second full year as an NFL starter, and he has more sacks this season than he did in 2020-21 combined.
But again, fan voting is not the only factor in the Pro Bowl selection process. Coaches and players also vote for who they believe should make the All-Star roster.
It’s surprising Highsmith didn’t receive more recognition from his peers.
Highsmith Snubbed in Pro Bowl Process
With Highsmith failing to secure a Pro Bowl spot ahead of Watt, a debate among Steelers fans has begun on social media about who deserves Pro Bowl nominations more — the most talented players or players experiencing the best seasons.
Sports Illustrated’s Noah Strackbein laid out the advantages to both thought processes.
“Remember toward the end of Kobe Bryant’s career when he always made the All-Star Game? I grew up an Allen Iverson fan and remember knowing every year, no matter how old the guy got, he was going to be on the court representing the East,” wrote Strackbein.
“Yeah, as a kid, it was fun to see all the biggest names. As a true-blooded fan, it would’ve been better to see everyone who actually deserved to be there.
“That wasn’t the expectation in the NFL, though. And for someone who had to be prepared on who would make the Pro Bowl before it was announced, T.J. Watt wasn’t even on my list.
“Do you want to know who was second, right behind Minkah Fitzpatrick? Alex Highsmith.”
Hopefully for Highsmith’s sake, he gets a chance to participate in the Pro Bowl activities because someone else drops out. For Steelers fans, it would be cool to see Highsmith and Watt together with Fitzpatrick representing Pittsburgh at the event.