Alex Highsmith won the third place vote in our BTSC Top Ten series, and he won it with over 50% of the votes. The next highest vote getter only received 19% of the votes. A commanding win for the Steelers third year edge rusher.
Alex Highsmith was drafted by the Steelers in 2020 and served as the Steelers third outside linebacker behind T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree as a rookie, taking over as the starter after Bud Dupree’s injury in Week 11. When Dupree left the Steelers for Tennessee, Highsmith became the full-time starter across from T.J. Watt in 2021. Highsmith was tasked with more run defense responsibility and dropped into coverage a good bit, and only recorded 6 sacks while growing into one of the better run defending edge players in the NFL. In 2022 Highsmith started the season by recording 3 sacks in Week 1, half his total from the previous season. With T.J. Watt hurt his production slowed, but Highsmith still recorded 14.5 sacks and 20 quarterback hits while still providing very solid run defense.
Highsmith also was an incredibly reliable player for the Steelers, starting all 17 games and leading all Steeler defenders in snaps played, beating Minkah Fitzpatrick by 2 snaps. He even posted a complete game, playing all 52 snaps in Week 16 against the Ravens. That’s a very uncommon thing for a Steelers outside linebacker to do.
Highsmith heads toward the 2023 season at age 26 and in the last year of his rookie contract. Highsmith wasn’t a first round pick so there is no fifth-year option to worry about. If the Steelers don’t extend his contract this offseason, he will be playing for a big deal this season.
Highsmith has shown a fantastic work ethic and a knack for run defense, pass rush and dropping into coverage. He’s a really good player who stepped out from behind T.J. Watt’s shadow in 2022. It’ll be fun to see how much farther he can go in 2023.
With Alex Highsmith leaving our list of candidates, we welcome Myles Jack to the list of players competing for the #3 spot in our BTSC 2022 Steelers top ten.
Here are the candidates:
Bold = led Steelers in stat.
James Daniels: Daniels signed with the Steelers and, despite being only 25 years old, immediately stepped into a leadership role. While Daniels struggled early adapting to his new offense and teammates, for the vast majority of the season he was the Steelers best offensive lineman. He played every snap the Steelers were on offense, so we don’t even know what it would have been like to not have him out there. That’s a good thing.
Terrell Edmunds: Edmunds has been a starter every year of his career. His role has expanded, and his play improved over time, and he has turned into a valuable “jack of all trades” type of safety, able to run with Tyreek Hill on a deep route or fill in as a linebacker and take on blockers and runners. The old phrase continues with “master of none” and that fits Edmunds as well, as he has never been a player that created splash plays or memorable highlights. It stands out that the Steelers worst loss and most passing yards surrendered since Edmunds was drafted came against the Buffalo Bills when Edmunds was out.
Stat line: 70 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 5 passes defended.
Pat Freiermuth: Freiermuth ranked second on the Steelers in targets in his second season. He also ranked second on the team in receptions and in yards per target. Freiermuth emerged as a go-to target in 2022, leading the Steelers in 4th quarter receptions, yards, touchdowns and first downs. His 6 receptions for first downs on third or fourth down in the 4th quarter of games tied for first among tight ends in the NFL in 2022. It’s hard to understate how important Pat Freiermuth’s clutch catches were to the Steelers this past season.
Stat line: 98 targets, 63 receptions, 732 yards, 2 touchdowns.
Najee Harris: Harris didn’t match his production from his rookie campaign, and he even had lower yards per touch, but Harris still led the Steelers in rushing while cutting his total touches by 18%. He did match his rookie season in touchdowns scored, with the exact same seven rushing touchdowns and three receiving touchdowns he had in 2021. A lot of his drop in production was due to a tough first half of the season when he was dealing with a foot injury and the offensive line was not playing well at all. The second half of the season Harris produced at a higher rate than his rookie season, averaging 88 total yards per game and scoring 7 touchdowns in 9 games.
Stat line: 1034 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns, 229 receiving yards, 3 receiving touchdowns.
Myles Jack: Jack signed with the Steelers in Free Agency and made an immediate impact, recording 10+ tackles in his first three games of the season to go with 2 tackles for a loss and a pass defended. Jack led all Steelers inside linebackers in snaps played and led the Steelers in tackles, both solo and assisted. Myles Jack wasn’t the player NFL fans remember from his prime years in Jacksonville, but he was a very solid run defender and before his injury, wasn’t too bad in coverage either. Jack is a good candidate for a Buck linebacker position, if he can be protected from tougher coverage assignments and allowed to focus on stuffing the run, he can still be a valuable linebacker.
Stat line: 104 tackles, 61 solo tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 3 passes defended.
Larry Ogunjobi: Ogunjobi might not have put up the numbers he has other places, his 1.5 sacks is his lowest total since his rookie season, but he was an important player for the Steelers, filling the vacancy next to Cameron Heyward and playing a large part in the Steelers improved run defense. Ogunjobi is a play wrecker and he lived in opponents’ backfields. Whether he returns to the Steelers for a second season or not, his impact in 2022 was worthy of recognition.
Stat line: 48 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks. 11 QB hits.
George Pickens: Pickens’ rookie season might not have matched JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 2017 campaign or Chase Claypool’s 2020, but Pickens was the most exciting and efficient receiver on the Steelers this past season, leading the team in yards per target, yards per reception and touchdowns. He and Kenny Pickett also set a rookie duo record for the best passer rating for any rookie QB throwing to a rookie WR. Pickens was rated by ESPN analytics as being the best in the NFL at catching a football, which is an important part of being a wide receiver.
Stat line: 84 targets, 52 receptions, 801 yards, 4 touchdowns, 9.5 yards per target.
Kenny Pickett: The Steelers went 1-4 in the first five games Pickett played. In those games he threw two touchdowns and 8 interceptions. After the bye week he turned it around, throwing 5 touchdowns and 1 interception and the Steelers went 6-1 in games he threw at least two passes in. Pickett also recorded four game winning drives and three 4th-quarter comebacks in those six wins after the bye week. Pickett has plenty of rough areas to improve in, and yet showed a lot of promise to build on as well. While we all wait to see what his future holds, it’s hard to deny the improvement he showed over his rookie season.
Stat line: 2404 passing yards, 7 touchdowns, 9 Interceptions, 4 game-winning drives.
Cameron Sutton: Sutton has improved every season, and in 2022 was the Steelers best cornerback. He led the team in passes defended and was third in interceptions. He posted the lowest passer rating against of the Steelers cornerbacks, posting a fantastic 47.9% completion percentage allowed.
Stat line: 15 passes defended, 3 interceptions, 43 tackles.
T.J. Watt: Watt didn’t have nearly the season he had in 2021. His stats are not impressive, and he didn’t put up a bunch of highlight plays either. But the Steelers win/loss record with and without T.J. Watt continues to be remarkable. The Steelers in 2022 were 8-2 when Watt played, 1-6 when he didn’t. While there were plenty of other factors affecting the Steelers turnaround, history supports his correlation to winning. The Steelers with T.J. Watt are one of the top teams in the NFL since 2017, without him they have easily the lowest win percentage in the NFL.
Stat Line: 5.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 5 passes defended, 39 tackles, 8 tackles for a loss, 12 QB hits.
There is always debate on these articles as to whether readers are voting for the most valuable Steeler or best player, and to me that’s the same thing, so vote whatever criteria feels right to you, It’s your choice.
Who was the fourth best Steeler of 2022?
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