NEPD Editor: Doug Kyed
You often hear about players that potentially fit the Patriots complex defense, well they found a good one when they traded up to take Dont’a Hightower 25th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Hightower has great position versatility, but where exactly will he fit in the Patriots hybrid defense?
Hightower mostly lined up at inside linebacker in the Alabama 3-4 defense, but was also able to rush off the edge in obvious passing situations. I could see Hightower playing SILB, SLB and MLB for the Patriots, while also taking snaps at rush OLB or with his hand down at DE. He’s a massive linebacker at 6-4 270lbs, but displays great speed and athleticism for his size.
Hightower should eventually become an everydown player who won’t need to come off the field in any situation due to his impressive reaction skills vs. the run, his zone coverage ability and his pass rushing.
I could foresee Hightower either starting at SLB or being a super reserve depending on what the Patriots do with Rob Ninkovich this season. If Ninkovich is playing more of a DE/pass rush role, then Hightower could be your starting SLB in week 1. If Ninkovich is playing that SLB role, then Hightower will be able to fill in for Brandon Spikes at MLB on passing downs, he’ll be able to play SLB when Ninkovich is rushing and he can move down the line to get after the passer in some blitzing packages.
One of Hightower’s greatest strengths is playing against the run and using his strength and size to fight through blocks. In Hightower’s junior season he had 11 tackles for a loss.
Earlier in the offseason, I predicted that Hightower could be the Aaron Hernandez of the defense, meaning that when he’s on the field for the Patriots defense, opposing teams won’t know where he’ll be lining up, what formation the Patriots will be running, or what he’ll be doing on any given play.
Hightower is a natural team leader, he was a captain in 2010 as a sophomore and returned as a captain for his junior season in 2011. He played under Bill Belichick’s buddy Nick Saban at Alabama and was a key part of the Crimson Tide’s 2011 National Championship team.
Hightower will be battling Spikes, Ninkovich, Dane Fletcher and possibly Bobby Carpenter for snaps in training camp, preseason and during the 2012 regular season. Fletcher has a similar skill set, being able to play SLB, MLB, OLB and DL, but Hightower is the more talented player.
Hightower signed a four year contract on July 19th worth $7.7 million with $6.3 million guaranteed.