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2020 NFL Draft Sleeper: Alex Highsmith

Updated: May 20

Published by Michael Garrity

*A week before the draft, I had the opportunity to interview Highsmith over Instagram DM. Some of the questions and responses in this article are from that interview.

Alex Highsmith is a 6’3, 250 lb Edge Rusher from Wilmington, NC. According to 247 Sports, Highsmith had 0 stars and was an unranked player coming out of High school. He enrolled at UNC Charlotte in 2015 as a walk-on, and decided to redshirt his Freshman year. In my interview, I asked Highsmith, “Do you think you would be the player you are today without redshirting your freshman year?” He said, “I don't think I would be the same person if it weren’t for my redshirt year. That year taught me so much and helped me to work hard and do whatever I could to help the team. It was also a good year to help me develop my game as well.” Highsmith started to turn some heads in his redshirt junior season, in which he set the 49ers single-season TFL record with 17.5. Highsmith also received the highest run-defense grade by PFF in his conference (90.6). He received First Team All-C-USA honors for his season.

Highsmith started to become a legitimate NFL prospect in his red-shirt senior season. He finished the season with seventy five TOT tackles, fourteen sacks, and twenty one TFL. He broke 5 school records in the process. Highsmith finished his collegiate career with another First Team All-C-USA selection, was a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy (top collegiate player to start career as a walk-on), and was named to the AP All-American Third Team.

Highsmith received an invite to the combine, and put on a show. He excelled in the five bag rush-move drill, and the hoop running drill. He paired those impressive performances with a 4.7 40, 10-foot-5 broad jump and 33-inch vertical leap. The NFL selected Highsmith to the 2020 All-Combine Team as an Edge Rusher. Even after his fantastic senior season and show-stopping combine, Highsmith was still being overlooked. He was projected as a late 4th round pick, and was ranked the 15th best Edge Rusher by CBS Sports.

Highsmith waited late on Day two, but finally got the call. With the 102nd pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select, Alex Highsmith! Highsmith will have a tough time getting playing time his rookie year, as the two starters at his position are Bud Dupree and TJ Watt. However, Dupree signed a franchise tender for 15 million dollars a few days ago, and has until July 15th to work out a long-term contract. If the Steelers and Dupree can’t come to an agreement, then Dupree will wear black and gold for one more year. This means that Highsmith could be in line for a starting role in his second season. For the time being, Highsmith has two fantastic mentors in Dupree and Watt. Both of these stars can help Highsmith develop his game and turn him into a future star for the Steelers. If for any reason either of them go down hurt, Highsmith is more than capable of filling their spot.

Highsmith can be overlooked for many reasons. One of those reasons is his small school origin. UNC Charlotte doesn’t produce high end players in the NFL, and Highsmith I feel like could change that. His numbers should show you how much of an impact player he was. Highsmith was also a walk-on, but so was Antonio Brown, Jordy Nelson, and JJ Watt. Walk-ons always come to the league with a different mindset, and that is to prove themselves.

In my interview with Highsmith, I asked him, “What advice would you give to other walk-ons who are trying to make a name for themselves?” Highsmith responded with this, “Outwork everyone. Fall in love with the process and do the little things right day to day, week to week, and month to month. Be the first guy to show up and the last one to leave. Be early for everything and don't be late for anything.”

Walk-on mindsets are different, and Highsmith will be someone to watch. MARK MY WORDS!

**For the full interview: https://phenommedia.net/interview-with-2020-nfl-draft-prospect-alex-highsmith-edge/