The Pittsburgh Steelers always said Alex Highsmith held promise as an NFL outside linebacker despite playing defensive end for most of his college career.
He’s fulfilling that potential and then some this season.
Highsmith leads the NFL with 4 forced fumbles and the Steelers with 10.0 sacks. He has more sacks through 12 games than he did during his first two NFL seasons combined. Highsmith also has 44 combined tackles, including 8 tackles for loss, 15 quarterback hits and 1 pass defense in 2022.
In light of his great first three-quarters of the season, Highsmith told The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly that he is updating his sack goal.
“The goal was 10,” Kaboly wrote. “With five games left, it’s now 16, which would tie him with Harrison for second-most in a single season for Pittsburgh.”
Highsmith’s Rare Statement to Make Goal Public
Just about all NFL players set goals for themselves, but Kaboly described it as “unusual” for a player to publicly address those goals, particularly during the season.
“It is unusual for a player to publicly announce his individual goals,” Kaboly wrote. “It is even rarer for him to publicly update them after surpassing the original goal.
“Not Highsmith. He enjoys the pressure that comes along with a number being thrown out there for everybody to know.”
Highsmith has been producing since Week 1 this season when he recorded 3.0 sacks in the overtime victory against the Cincinnati Bengals. He reached the 5.5-sack mark by the end of Week 4.
Entering 2022, Highsmith had a chance to excel with single-blocking assignments because of the attention shifted towards Watt’s side of the line. But Highsmith quickly became the focal point of opposing offensive lines with the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year exiting Week 1 with a pectoral injury.
But Highsmith produced despite Watt missing seven games. He has 3.5 sacks, 5 tackles for loss and 5 quarterback hits in games without Watt this season.
That production and the return of Watt for the stretch run give Highsmith a shot at exclusive Steelers company.
Highsmith Going for Steelers History
The Pittsburgh sack record Watt set last year of 22.5 is out of reach. But if Highsmith matches his goal of 16.0 sacks, he will tie James Harrison for the second-most sacks in a season in Steelers history.
Up until Watt’s historic 2021 campaign, that was the Pittsburgh sack record. Watt, Harrison, and Mike Merriweather are the only Steelers defenders to record at least 15.0 sacks in a season.
Merriweather held the Pittsburgh sack record with 15.0 sacks in 1984 until Harrison recorded 16.0 in 2008.
Highsmith is tied for fifth in the NFL with 10.0 sacks through Week 13. If he finishes the season in the Top 5 in sacks, it will be the fifth straight year a Steelers defender accomplishes that feat.
Watt ended each year Top 5 in sacks from 2018-21. He led the NFL in sacks during 2020 and 2021.
Despite the possibility of some history, though, Highsmith isn’t making individual goals his top priority.
“[Ten sacks] was one of my goals, and I feel that was just a springboard to give me even more,” Highsmith told Kaboly. “Sixteen would be nice, but at the end of the day we just have to stack these wins.”