Steelers: Alex Highsmith
Seeing Alex Highsmith go to the hated Steelers in the 2020 NFL Draft was hard to stomach. Surprisingly, he was still available late in the third round, going 102nd overall. The Bengals barely missed out on him as they had the 107th pick, where they chose Akeem Davis-Gaither early in the fourth round.
Although he is listed as a linebacker, Highsmith is an edge defender. He has developed into the pass rusher that Pittsburgh hoped he would be. Last year, Highsmith had a breakout season, recording 14.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, and five forced fumbles.
Highsmith stepped up big time when T.J. Watt was out due to injury. The young edge rusher also played a significant role in why the Bengals jumped at the chance to sign left tackle Orlando Brown in free agency this offseason.
The Bengals desperately need to improve their pass rush. Hopefully, they will get better in that department this season.
The team drafted Myles Murphy in the first round, hoping he would develop into the consistent threat they need. The Bengals’ need for an improved pass rush could have been addressed if they had Highsmith, perhaps eliminating the need to spend a first-round selection on an edge defender in 2023.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, Highsmith is in the last year of his rookie deal. This is something that most NFL teams will keep a close eye on. Every defense is looking for elite pass rushers. If the Bengals can’t improve their sack totals this season, they should be at the front of the line.
It is doubtful Pittsburgh will let Highsmith go for nothing. They could place the franchise tag on him if the two sides don’t work out a new contract. But if not, Cincinnati might get another crack at acquiring his services via free agency in 2024.