04/30/2012 - A closer look at the Patriots' picks: Round 1/25 - Dont'a Hightower, ILB, 6-2, 265, Alabama...Once again, the Patriots moved up in the pecking order to get the player they wanted in fear that somebody else (namely the Ravens) might take him off the board. Hightower seems more of a natural fit in New England due to his versatility; he can play with a hand on the ground as a pass-rushing defensive end, or drop into coverage as a run-stuffing linebacker. - The Sports Xchange
Like most of his teammates, Hightower didn't give a full workout at his March 7 Pro Day. But Alabama coach Nick Saban gave Hightower, who turned 22 on March 12, an early birthday present when he offered plenty of data for those who would listen.
"Inside linebacker, nickel backer, defensive end and odd rusher," recited Saban. "He does all those things very well, he is very smart and he has leadership qualities."
As a freshman, Hightower was labeled "A freak who can play any position," by teammate Rolando McClain (No. 8 overall in 2010, Raiders). He played up to the hype until he blew out his left knee in 2009 and required reconstructive surgery on his ACL, MCL and meniscus.
It wasn't really until last season that he was playing back to top form, which is comparable to a larger and more athletic Brandon Spikes (New England, second-round pick out of Florida, 2010).
Hightower combines dutiful film work and great instinct to help get him quickly into position for plays, and then his substantial physical abilities take over. He is a natural leader and weight-room fanatic.
Read & React: Productive, combines good instincts and fair reaction time for his size. Finds the ball in the trash inside, doesn't take false steps against play-action and gets into his drop quickly and naturally. Missing the quick-twitch acceleration, and thus reaction speed, to project as an All-Pro type.
Run defense: Solid run-stuffer with good mobility. Stonewalls ballcarriers in the hole with the size and leverages one-on-one to churn legs and prevent forward push. Big-bodied with a defensive end's frame to drive linemen blocks inside with the thick arms to maintain distance and shed or scrape to the play. Flashes hustle to reach option toss outside even with delayed read. Aggressive defensive scheme gives him a lot of chances to make plays on run blitzes. Lacks speed to beat the ball outside without taking the perfect angle.
Pass defense: Top zone awareness kept him on the field in passing situations despite average speed. Drops to first-down marker quickly and watches for crossers in front of him. Very aware of RB routes with effort to attack throws to the sideline. Lacks speed and short-area quickness to handle NFL slot receivers and better tight ends in man coverage; can struggle to track and catch up with misdirection. Manhandles receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Tackling: Strong head-on tackler. Gets low and wraps ballcarriers of any size. Reacts quickly enough to shed blocks or grab the legs of backs through a hole. Good chase and closing to the sideline. Leaves his feet to grab elusive ballcarriers in space using his size and strength. Occasionally whiffs, is inconsistent breaking down to attack open-field targets and misses chances when he doesn't bend and get low in tight quarters.
Pass Rush/Blitz: Regular blitzer because of his size and strong hands. Does not have elite edge speed but started to beat tackles with quickness and violent hands consistently. Shows some situational DE potential. Strength to rock back tight ends and linemen with initial contact. Average changing direction but has the length and flexibility to bend around the tackle.
Intangibles: Heady player, often directed traffic. Worked hard to rehab from serious knee injury in 2009. Took the leadership handoff from Rolando McClain as a redshirt sophomore. Spends a lot of time in the weight and film room.