With their third round pick the Steelers selected Alex Highsmith, an outside linebacker who is a pass rush specialist. Highsmith played at Charlotte where he had 15 sacks his senior season, finishing his career with a school-record 20 sacks. He also had 22 tackles for a loss in 2019.
Highsmith was an Associated Press All-American, the first one from Charlotte.
Highsmith said he spoke with Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert and Coach Mike Tomlin a few weeks ago and they expressed an interest in him and told him the role they would like him to play as a young player, which would be outside linebacker after playing defensive end at Charlotte the last two years.
"They talked to me about being a special teams guy this year and being the guy backing up (Bud) Dupree and T.J. (Watt)," said Highsmith. "I am just so excited to learn from those two guys, two of the best pass rushers in this league. I am ready to soak up everything like a sponge, learn so much and do everything I can to help the team get back to the Super Bowl.
"I am ready for the challenge. I am excited for the transition. I am going to do whatever I can, be the hardest worker on the team. I can't wait to get to work."
The Steelers scouted Highsmith in the fall and Colbert said the first time he saw him in person was at practice at the East-West Shrine Game where he stood out.
"A long, fast, athletic guy," said Colbert. "He continued to impress us athletically at the Combine. When you look at his history of what he did as a walk-on and a special teams standout as a young player to put up the stats he had this season, we don't think this kid is anywhere near where he might be down the road."
With Highsmith coming from a smaller college there will be some adjustments to be made, but Tomlin is confident that won't be an issue with the way he approaches the game.
"I enjoyed getting to know him through the process and having football conversations with him," said Tomlin. "He is a technician. He studies the rush element of play. He took a significant step in 2019 in terms of developing his rush repertoire and I think it was beneficial to him in terms of his production and it's reasonable to expect that growth and understanding in analyzing what he does and how it produces plays to continue even as he takes a step to this level of play.
"We were impressed by his resume, the development of his skills over the time there. It was a fluid and fun process getting to know him because he is a football junkie in terms of how he develops skill relative to his position."
Eugene Ashley High School
2020 NFL Combine participant ... named to 2020 NFL all-Combine Team as edge rusher ... 2020 East-West Shrine Bowl ... 2019 3rd team all-America by AP and Pro Football Focus ... first 49er to earn all-America honors ... 2018 and 2019 First Team all-Conference USA (coaches) ... first 49er to be named first team all-C-USA twice ... 2019 1st team all-C-USA by PFF and Phil Steele .... Ranked 4th in the nation in sacks (14.0) and 5th in TFL (21.5) ... starting DE in 49ers' first-ever bowl game (2019 Bahamas Bowl) ... 2019 Team Captain ... 2019 Chuck Bednarik Award (Defensive Player of the Year) Watch List ... Burlsworth Trophy Semifinalist ... owns school records for sacks in a game (4.5), season (14.0) and career (20.0) and TFL in a game (5.0) and season (21.5) ... 2nd all-time with 46.0 TFL ... fifth all-time with 185 career tackles ... 2019 Preseason all-Conference USA (coaches) ... 2018 first-team all-C-USA by PFF and second-team by Phil Steele ... Joined the 49ers for the 2015 season as a walk-on ... earned scholarship during the summer of 2017.
Chuck Bednarik Award (Defensive Player of the Year) Watch List ... Burlsworth Trophy Semifinalist (top collegiate player that began career as a walk-on) ... broke school records for sacks in a game (4.5 vs. ODU), season (14.0) and career (20.0) and TFL in a game (5.0) and season (21.5) ... 4th in the nation in sacks (14.0) and 5th in TFL (21.5) ... career-high 75 tackles ... team-high 8 QBh ... 3 PBU and 1 FF ... started all 13 games ... seven tackles in vs. Buffalo in Bahamas Bowl ... PFF National Team of the Week after ODU win (car.-high 12 tackles; records of 4.5 sacks and 5.0 TFL) ... 5-time C-USA Defensive Team of the Week (PFF) ... Preseason all-Conference USA (coaches) ... Preseason all-C-USA First Team selection by Athlon Sports, Phil Steele and Street & Smiths.
Breakout season with career-best in tackles, TFL and sacks ... 49ers' single-season school record with 17.5 TFL ... tied 49ers single-game record with 4.5 TFL at FAU in season-finale victory ... 2018 first-team all-Conference USA ... named first-team all-C-USA by Pro Football Focus (PFF) and second team by Phil Steele ... had C-USA's highest run-defense grade (90.6) and second-highest overall grade (89.7) by PFF ... PFF ranked him first in C-USA with 46 stops ... started all 12 games at DE ... earned PFF National Team of the Week honors following win at FAU (career-high 10 tackles; school-record 4.5 TFL; 1.5 sacks) ... also named Madness C-USA POTW ... named league's Defensive Player of the Week after 7.0 tackle; 4.0 TFL outing at the SEC's Tennessee as Charlotte held Vols to season-lows of 192 yards of total offense and 20 yards rushing ... had three games with at least 2.5 TFL (4.5 at FAU; 4.0 at UT; 2.5 vs. App State).
Take a look at photos of Pittsburgh Steelers 3rd round pick, LB, Alex Highsmith
Increased impact dramatically mid-season ... played in 11 games without a start ... led 49ers with a career-high 7.0 QBh (sixth-most in a single-season) ... fifth on team with 5.0 TFL ... T2nd with 2.0 sacks ... totaled 33 tackles (23 solo) with 5.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 7.0 QBh and one FR ... over the final five games had 22 tackles, all 5.0 TFL, both 2.0 sacks, six QBh and one FR ... had a career-best eight tackles (seven solo), 4.0 TFL with 1.0 sack at WKU ... 4.0 TFL are second-most by a 49er in a game ... 5.0 tackles with 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack at Old Dominion ... 5.0 tackles vs. Middle Tennessee and Georgia State ... tied a school record with four QBh vs. MT ... key FR in 25-24 OT win over UAB.
Played in all 12 games, making one start as a red-shirt freshman ... lone start came in season-finale at UTSA ... finished year with 17 tackles (11 solo), 2.0 TFL; 1.0 sacks, one QB hurry and 1 pass breakup ... top game came in starting assignment at UTSA: season-high five tackles (five solo), 1.0 TFL on his first career sack ... at least one tackles in each of his final 11 games ... TFL vs. Middle Tennessee, as well ... two tackles at Temple and at Florida Atlantic in 49ers' first-ever C-USA win ... one tackle and one QBh vs. Old Dominion ... one tackle (TFL) and one PBU vs. MT.
2018 C-USA Honor Roll ... Named to Athletic Director's List (3.0 or higher) in Spring 2016.
At Eugene Ashley High School
A second team all-Area and first team all-Mideastern Conference choice as a senior for the Screaming Eagles ... named team captain and MVP for head coach Michael Propst ... recorded 68 tackles and two forced fumbles as a junior to be named Most Improved Player ... honorable mention all-conference as a junior.
Born August 7, 1997 ... parents are Sam and Pam Highsmith ... has a sister, Lauryn ... major in exercise science with a minor in American Studies ... A/B Honor Roll throughout high school ... National Honor Society ... also played basketball and baseball.