Every year, there are a few prospects that grab everyone’s attention at the NFL Combine. Charlotte defensive end Alex Highsmith had such a strong performance at Lucas Oil Stadium that he’s quickly rising up draft boards.
Highsmith finished his senior year with 75 tackles, 15 sacks and two forced fumbles. His production at Charlotte led to him getting an invite to the combine.
During the combine, Highsmith posted the fourth-best 40 time among defensive linemen at 4.70 seconds and his 33-inch vertical jump was also toward the top percentile for his position.
We sat down with Highsmith to discuss his path to the NFL Draft, which pass rushers he watches film on and the driving force behind his incredible senior season with the 49ers. Let’s get this interview started.
Alex Highsmith was named to https://t.co/0a2yhjCZkR’s “All-Combine” team as the top-performing edge rusher 😤
— 𝘾𝙃𝘼𝙍𝙇𝙊𝙏𝙏𝙀 𝙁𝙊𝙊𝙏𝘽𝘼𝙇𝙇 (@CharlotteFTBL) March 3, 2020
The Spun: In my opinion, you had a dominant performance at the NFL Combine. How’d you feel you performed?
Alex Highsmith: I think overall it was a great week. I went into that whole week with an underdog mindset because I felt like that’s how people were looking at me since I came from a small school. So, I worked as hard as I could and enjoyed the whole process. It was a fun and long week, but it was an amazing experience because this is an opportunity I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid. Just being able to be on that stage is so awesome, and I’m so thankful that I was able to be there and showcase my skills in front of coaches. Overall, I definitely feel like I made the most out of that week and I can’t wait for what’s in store.
The Spun: You went from three sacks during your junior season to 15 for your senior year. What do you think was the difference for you?
AH: I think it was Coach Healy’s decision to hire Marcus West from Minnesota. He’s a great defensive line coach and he taught me different pass-rush moves and techniques. Also, the scheme that we were in helped me as well. During my junior year we played a 3-4 defense, so it was hard to get to the passer that way. This past season we played a 4-2-5 defense, so it was easy for me to play fast and get after the quarterback a lot. That scheme really gave me a lot of freedom.
The Spun: Are there any pass rushers in the NFL you’ve tried to replicate your game after?
AH: There are a good number of pass rushers I watch. Khalil Mack, Von Miller, Danielle Hunter, Demarcus Lawrence and guys like those are players I try to take some of their moves from. Von Miller has a spin move that I incorporate into my game. Demarcus Lawrence has perfected the cross chop, so I’ve tried to add that move to my arsenal as well. I really like watching those guys and seeing how they get after the passer – and they also play the run as well. So, it’s really cool I have access to NFL film and get to watch great players like them.
The Spun: Which NFL QB do you want to chase down and sack the most?
AH: I’d have to say Tom Brady. To be able to say I sacked the G.O.A.T. would be pretty cool.
The Spun: Due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak, we’ve seen pro days around the country get canceled. Are you comfortable with where your stock is at the moment, or do you think not having a pro day would hurt?
AH: My pro day has been suspended for a little bit. I don’t know if it’ll be canceled, but it has been suspended. I feel like I proved what I needed to prove throughout this draft process. I came into the NFL Combine, had a great week and workout, and impressed coaches during my interviews. It definitely stings to not be able to have my pro day right now, and it stings for all my brothers who planned at participating at Charlotte’s pro day. But I do feel like I proved myself at the combine, and I don’t think the suspended pro day will affect my draft status.
Before he began speaking to a group of media, Charlotte DE Alex Highsmith made sure to shake each of our hands and introduce himself.
That’s a first and felt worth recognizing.
— Alaina Getzenberg (@agetzenberg) February 27, 2020
The Spun: You started your career as a walk-on at Charlotte. You’re now a month away from making the NFL. Can you just describe this journey and what it’s meant to you?
AH: It’s meant a lot and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I remember coming in as a walk-on and coming after training camp. I came in and did what I could for the scout team that first year. I worked my butt off and eventually became a part of the rotation. During my freshman and sophomore years I played on special teams, so I think that’s what a lot of coaches will like I about. The spring of 2018 was when my game went to the next level – not just on the field, but off. From a nutrition standpoint, I didn’t know much about eating right. When I came to college, I gained what people call the “freshman 15.” I used to go to the cafeteria all the time and eat whatever food was there. I definitely know a lot more about nutrition now, and it’s really helped me transform my body, gain weight the right way and recover. Also like we already said, I learned more pass-rushing techniques too. It’s been an awesome journey and it’s made me who I am today. I’ll always have that walk-on mentality when I step on the field.
— Wasserman (@Wasserman) March 11, 2020
Lance Zierlein of NFL Network shared his thoughts on Highsmith as a prospect. He believes the Charlotte product has great footwork for a pass-rusher and has a variety of moves he can use against offensive tackles.
Most projections have Highsmith as a mid-round draft pick. Even if he doesn’t see that much time on defense during his rookie year, he could still play a prominent role on special teams.
Not only is Highsmith extremely versatile, but he also carries that walk-on mentality that he mentioned earlier that should help him develop at the next level.
You can read more of our interviews with athletes or media stars here.