Dont’a Hightower (Alabama)
-- Courtesy of Darr Beiser / USA Today --
Height: 6020 Weight: 265 40 Time: 4.68 Bench: N/A Vertical: 32.0 Broad: N/A
Final Grade: 9.3
Player Comparison: Rolando McClain
Projected Draft Position: First Round
As a highly-touted linebacker out of Tennessee, Hightower chose Alabama and ended his collegiate career as a very productive defender under guru Nick Saban. One of only two regular starting true freshman on the team in 2008, Hightower strung together a solid freshman season and earned spots on the All-SEC Freshman Team and All-American Freshman Second Team. In 2009, Hightower played just four games before tearing the ACL in his left knee and taking a medical redshirt. He would bounce back the following season as a sophomore and earn Second Team All-SEC honors. Hightower gained real stardom as a returning team captain in 2011 as a junior. He was the quarterback of the nation’s top-ranked defense and was a consensus All-American selection, including finalist listings for the Lombardi, Benarik, Ditka and Lott Trophies. Hightower is a very intelligent football player and conducts himself very profesionally for someone his age with such talent.
Alabama typically grooms very freakish athletes, but Hightower doesn’t necessarily make a living off his athleticism. Not to be mistaken, Hightower is athletic for a man his size, but he doesn’t have the versatility to play multiple linebacker positions like some of the others in his class. Despite slightly compromising his speed and fluidity, Hightower possesses ideal size and bulk for the middle linebacker position. His height is imposing and results in good vision of the field, while his bulk help him to be an effective and sure tackler. Hightower is most effective in the box, where not much is asked of his speed. Although fast enough within range, Hightower doesn’t possess good overall speed or the ability to change directions without huge compromise in his pursuit. Hightower is as coordinated an athlete as other linebackers, but none of his athletic attributes necessarily stand out from the rest. Hightower can appear to play tall at times, as a result of limited flex and bend at the position. Hightower isn’t an agile athlete, but he remains a very difficult blocking assignment.
Hightower’s game is based on his instincts. Hightower is a natural football player with a knack for the game and a feel that could make him a rookie starter on an NFL roster. Hightower is a very powerful and imposing linebacker who plays every snap with brute strength. With experience of leading a very complex and talented defense, Hightower is accustomed to making pre-snap reads and breaking down a play at the line. At the snap, Hightower’s instincts take over and reacts effortlessly. As a blitzer, Hightower’s pursuit is well-beyond that of many other college juniors. Despite a limited repetoire of pass-rushing moves, Hightower uses his hands very well in combination with his strength to beat blockers.As a result of his bulk, Hightower doesn’t possess great range for the position. Although he can move laterally, Hightower is most effective in the box and lacks the sideline-to-sideline speed necessary in pass-coverage.
As a fierce and imposing tackler, the least of Hightower’s worries are missing tackles. Not only does his size give him the ability to wrap and drag, but Hightower possesses the necessary intincts to see a play and react quickly. Although is heavy feet can sometimes force him to over-pursue a play, Hightower rarely takes bad angles. In the box, Hightower can effectively clog a hole as well as some current NFL starters and he has the force to lay the wood on opposing ball carriers. Despite a limited number of rush moves, Hightower remains a tough blocking assignment because of his size and use of hands. However, this doesn’t necessarily make him consistent at shedding blocks. Hightower can struggle to shed blocks due his lack of bend and flexibility. Hightower possesses impressive initial quickness, likely because he can sniff out a play prior to the snap. His size demands a lane to the football and he can move well regardless of traffic. At times when he struggles to shed, Hightower can be left out of the play due to lack of closing speed. In a defense where he is assigned to disrupt, Hightower will blow up a fair number of backfields.
The only negative to Hightower’s game that could cause some teams to look in another direction is his ability in coverage. His read-and-react allow him to be somewhat effective in zone-coverage, but Hightower doesn’t possess the speed necessary to hang with receivers in man-to-man. Hightower can control the box and effectively contain checkdowns, but he’s not reliable in coverage that requires him to travel sideline-to-sideline. In contrast, Hightower is a very effective and disruptive pass-rusher. Hightower has experience with his hand in the dirt and he shows well. His pursuit of the quarterback is done so with aggression, but he needs to continue to develop skill moves to beat his blockers. Currently, Hightower relies solely on his strength and effective use of his hands. Hightower is a huge threat on blitz assignments and quarterbacks will feel his presence. In certain hybrid schemes, Hightower could be a terror off the end.
As most defensive products from Nick Saban at Alabama, Dont’a Hightower possesses the above-average game knowledge that will help him to become a successful pro at the next level. Since arriving at Alabama in 2008 as a highly-touted linebacker out of Tennessee, Hightower has conquered adversity, handled the spotlight and worked to become the leader of the one of the best defenses college football has ever seen. Hightower is a natural football player and student of the game. When the middle linebacker position is described as the “quarterback of the defense”, Hightower is more than fitting of the role. Inside the box, Hightower is as effective as any other linebacker in this class. He has great size for the position and he’s a very sure tackler. He’s an imposing rusher in pursuit and he can fill lanes as well as some current NFL starters. Hightower demonstrates a very good ability to read-and-react to plays, which ultimately help him in zone-coverage. However, Hightower’s biggest weakness is his ability to cover man-to-man. Hightower doesn’t have great speed for the position and he struggles to maintain coverage position from sideline-to-sideline. His lack of closing speed also makes it hard for him to make a play on the football past his own level. Hightower can fit in both a 43 and 34 defensive scheme, but he undoubtedly belongs on the inside. There is also potential for Hightower as a designed pass-rusher in a certain hybrid scheme, as he was sometimes lined as a five-tech defensive end under Saban. Coaches will be very attracted to Hightower as a football player and his knowledge of the game. Hightower is very professional off the football field and his maturity goes a long way on it. Hightower has constantly portrayed his ability to command an elite defense while performing at a high level himself. Although critical of Hightower’s speed and questionability on third downs in the NFL, there’s no denying the fact that he’s a first-round talent. A creative and schematic coach/coordinator would get the most out of Hightower and his skills, but even a Pop Warner volunteer would get enough out of someone as natural as Hightower.