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2020 NFL Draft: Scouting Roundup on Steelers OLB Alex Highsmith

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Looking at the pre-draft buzz about the Steelers third round pick.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 03 Charlotte at Tennessee Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers selected OLB Alex Highsmith with the 102nd pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Highsmith was a late riser in the draft, and wasn’t on most analysts radar before the Shrine game and combine. Let’s see what different sources had to say about him.


The Draft Network

The Good

Really like his twitch when he’s committed to coiling and driving up the field. His acceleration is pretty nutty when he looks to work back against his momentum as well — not just a straight line burst guy who can’t but his twitch and initial quickness to use in the full field of play.

The Bad

Too many reps where everything looks good but he just doesn’t have the oomph to put off hands and get himself clear in gaps.

The Verdict

Alex Highsmith projects as a developmental starter at the pro level. He’s got the needed explosiveness, short area agility and motor — pairing it with promising flashes of hand usage to play off of contact and win off the edge as a pass rusher. There’s plenty of quickness to his game — can Highsmith learn to consistently stack up the point of attack? He’s probably best suited to play 3-4 OLB in the NFL to allow him wide angles to extend and stack up blockers against the run.

Joe Marino of Draft Network also reviewed Highsmith.

The Good

Has good play recognition skills and rarely takes himself out of his fit/rush lane. Experienced working for a stand-up role where he will likely project at the next level. Hard-charging and urgent defender.

The Bad

Lacks length and it shows up on tape. He battles with his hands but there are times where he just can’t get the separation needed to get off blocks or effectively deploy counters.

The Verdict

While he lacks ideal size, Highsmith is an urgent defender with enough appeal as a pass rusher and gap-shooter that he projects as a quality sub-package option with the upside of an eventual starter as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.


Pro Football Focus

From late November:

Highsmith checked in at 98th on PFF’s latest draft board. The improvement Highsmith has made in four years since walking onto Charlotte’s football has us intrigued. He went from a 60.9 pass-rushing grade in 2016 to 71.2 in 2017 to 75.6 last year to 91.4 this season.

Pro Football Focus graded Highsmith very highly in 2019.

They graded him even higher in 2018, as this tweet from July shows.


Nick Farabaugh for Steelersnow.com

On April 22nd Farabaugh mocked Highsmith to the Steelers with the 102nd pick.

When watching Highsmith, it becomes apparent that he is very much like a Steelers outside linebacker. His first step off the line is great and the man has some of the best bend in the entire draft class. Granted, that is mainly all he is right now, but that is a heck of a baseline to work with coming into the NFL. The Steelers will have to mold his hand usage, pass rush plan, and counters, but the natural quickness, burst, and bendiness with get Highsmith on the field from day one regardless.


Andrew DiCecco for Pro Football Network

Whichever team is fortunate enough to land Highsmith will not only be adding a phenomenal talent, but perhaps an even better person.

and. . .

While Alex Highsmith is almost assuredly a top-100 prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft, pass rushers of his caliber are in high demand and often come off the board sooner than anticipated.

DiCecco’s piece covers Highsmith’s story heading up to the combine, and is a great read if you are interested in his story more than his projection to the NFL.


Perhaps one of the more impressive scouting reports came from Dabbo Swinney before Clemson faced the Charlotte 49ers

“They probably have the best player that we’ve seen to this point in that No. 5 (defensive end Alex Highsmith). He’s on all the ‘great player’ lists. I kept watching him and going, ‘Holy cow.’ He looks like Xavier Thomas. He’s physical, fast, disruptive. He’s causing sacks and tips. Really, really good football player. That No. 5 could play for anybody in the country.”

Coaches typically build up opponents before games, but Clemson’s game plan showed the respect hey had for Highsmith.

Alex Highsmith is a latecomer to football, who was incredibly raw coming into college, so while he might not be very young, he’s still learning the position. He has been improving rapidly, the question is how much better is he going to get?