Premium talents at most positions tend to be clustered most heavily in the top half of the first round of the NFL Draft, if those talents are available in that class. The Pittsburgh Steelers have rarely found themselves in this space, so finding a Rashawn Slater, as the Los Angeles Chargers did 13th overall last year, was a rare opportunity.
They might get that chance in the 2023 NFL Draft, as they should have a top-10 pick. And then the rusher Alex Highsmith will have to take care of him throughout the week, rather than only on Sunday. Steelers fans are obviously hoping they can find their own Slater. For Highsmith, it was arguably the best matchup he had faced so far in his career.
“I would probably say for me just at the tackle level, I thought Slater from the Chargers, he was one of the good guys that I probably played against last year,” the third-year veteran said when asked. he was asked who was the best lineman he faced on the Not Just Football podcast. “Him being a rookie too, seeing a guy like that – I think he was a first-team or second-team All-Pro – going against him was a good game.”
The Steelers and Chargers played out Week 11 last year, with Los Angeles winning 41-37 in the end. Slater started this game and played every snap, as he did in all but one contest during his rookie season, and Highsmith had his hands full.
Not to say he wasn’t productive. In fact, he recorded a sack and a half in that game as well as six tackles, including one tackle for loss, along with three quarterback hits. All of that didn’t work against the rookie left tackle, of course. They moved it, partly because TJ Watt was out that day with an injury.
Unfortunately, the 2022 season marked significant injuries for Watt and Slater. The former has missed the last seven games with pectoral and knee injuries but is expected to return next week. Slater suffered a bicep injury in week three. There’s a chance he’ll come back later in the year, but it’s not guaranteed.
Looking back on the Steelers’ schedule over the past two years, Highsmith might be right to say that Slater is the best tackle he’s faced so far in his career. And he was right, Slater was a second-team All-Pro last season as well as a Pro Bowler.
Highsmith is still looking to make his first Pro Bowl now in his third season, and second as a full-time starter. He has 6.5 sacks in the season and is on pace at around 14. Watt’s return should only take more attention away from him and perhaps open more avenues for production. After all, three of his sacks came in the opener before Watt was injured.