Heading into the 2020 season there were questions around the NFL about what kind of impact rookies could have on their teams given there was no in person offseason program and no preseason. Many wondered if their impact would be felt in any form or fashion.
Well, if there is one thing 2020 taught us, it's to expect the unexpected. The Steelers rookies had a big impact on the team this year, including linebacker Alex Highsmith.
Highsmith, selected in the third round from Charlotte, played in all 16 games in 2020, starting five. He finished the season with 48 tackles, including 30 solo stops, two sacks, an interception and a pass defense.
Highsmith started the last five regular season games of the season at right outside linebacker after Bud Dupree suffered a season ending injury against the Baltimore Ravens. In his first start against the Washington Football Team, he had five tackles, and added another five tackles two weeks later against Cincinnati.
Highsmith had eight tackles in a win over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16, and a career-high nine tackles in Week 17 against the Cleveland Browns.
"He always comes to work ready to grow and get better," said fellow outside linebacker T.J. Watt during the season. "That is the thing with him. He is always asking the right questions. I am not able to see guys prepare this year because we are all socially distanced and watching film from home. I know he is prepared."
Without a preseason, Highsmith definitely leaned on Dupree and Watt during the season, from their advice to just watching how they work on a daily basis.
"It's been awesome to learn from Bud and T.J.," said Highsmith. "I think they showed it, they are the best outside backer duo in the league. I am just learning from them, watching what they do. Being a high productive guy, high energy guy. I just want to provide quality reps and make plays for the team because that is what matters most."
That he did, as he earned praise along the way.
"For a linebacker, watching (Alex's) pass rushing as a rookie is pretty impressive," said cornerback Mike Hilton. "You wouldn't expect a rookie to have a lot of moves in their resume. When he goes out there and gets on the offensive tackles, he is athletic, bends well and makes plays."
INDIVIDUAL GAME HIGHLIGHTS
• 9/14 at N.Y. Giants: Made his NFL debut.
• 10/25 at Tennessee: Registered 4 tackles (3 solo).
• 11/1 at Baltimore: Registered his first career interception, picking off a pass from QB Lamar Jackson at the Ravens' 23-yard line, which set up a Steelers TD two plays later.
• 11/8 at Dallas: Registered his first career sack when he dropped QB Garrett Gilbert for a loss of 6 yards in the first quarter on 3rd-and-10 at the Steelers' 20-yard line.
• 12/7 vs Washington: Made his first career start at right outside linebacker...registered 5 tackles (2 solo).
• 12/21 at Cincinnati: Finished with 5 tackles (3 solo) and a QB hit.
• 12/27 vs Indianapolis: Recorded 8 tackles (4 solo) and added 2 QB hits.
• 1/3 at Cleveland: Led the team with 9 tackles (6 solo) and sacked QB Baker Mayfield for a 10-yard loss in the second quarter.