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Flexibility Makes Hightower Intriguing Linebacker Prospect

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Flexibility Makes Hightower Intriguing Linebacker Prospect

Back during the NFL Scouting Combine, Cheesehead TV released a list of 13 players that the Green Bay Packers could conceivably target in the first-round of the NFL Draft.

That was in February. And if there's one player that might have been overlooked and omitted from that list at the time, it was probably Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower.

As a player that stands 6-2 and weighs 265 pounds, Hightower has the size and athleticism that could allow him to play either inside or outside linebacker at the pro level despite playing primarily on the inside in college.

"A couple of people did come to me and ask me how I felt about playing outside linebacker and defensive end in the 4-3," said Hightower at the Combine. "Whatever I’ve got to do to get on the field and contribute to a team that wins the Super Bowl, that’s what I’m looking forward to."

Hightower is a player that could be drafted late in the first round. And as a team that owns the No. 28 overall draft choice, he could interest the Green Bay Packers.

Green Bay has an obvious need at outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews. And even though they've got Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk as their starting duo at inside linebacker, Hawk's level of play last season might suggest that he's not above replacement.

Hightower could be the type of player that the Packers draft now and see where he fits later.

Part of what makes Hightower so interesting and seemingly so versatile is how Alabama used him as an edge pass rusher on occasion, going so far as to even line up in a three-point stance. That wasn't his primary duty in college, but he did it just often and well enough to think he could make the transition to outside linebacker at the next level.

What Hightower has to prove is that he's over a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that forced him to miss all but four games of his 2009 season when he had to take a medical redshirt.

But to hear him talk about it, that's a situation that's over with. Indeed, he's played in two largely injury-free seasons since that time.

"I feel a lot more fluid as far as my movements go," said Hightower. "I feel as fast as I’ve ever felt even before the knee injury."

Prior to the injury, Hightower was considered a high riser in the the scouting community. He was a full-time starter his true freshman year in 2008 at one of the two inside linebacker positions in Alabama's 3-4 defense.

Occupying the other inside linebacker spot was Rolando McClain, a first-round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2010. The two formed an imposing duo. And as only a freshman, many thought Hightower's best days were ahead of him.

The knee injury provided a setback for Hightower, but it's something he's worked hard to overcome. And now McClain is offering advice to Hightower who could join his former college teammate as a first-selection.

"He just told me at first it was going to be a tough couple of days, a lot of busy work, as far the physicals and the interviews go but the last day is the only day that really counts," said Hightower about the Combine experience. "You go out there and show everybody what you have and what you’ve been training for since the offseason."

From most appearances, Hightower had a positive workout at the Combine, but his 2011 season at Alabama was even more impressive. It was a year he showed he was not only fully recovered from injury but also that he could play at a high level at the same time.

As a team, Alabama achieved the highest-possible honor by becoming the BCS national champions. Hightower was one of the team captains and helped lead the defense to No. 1 overall national rankings in scoring defense (8.2 points per game), total defense (183.6 yards per game), rushing defense (72.5 ypg) and passing defense (111.5 ypg).

As an individual, he was named a consensus first-team All-American by the Associated Press, AFCA and Walter Camp, as well as being a finalist for the Lombardi, Butkus, Bednarik and Lott awards.

Following a season like that, Hightower could confidently declare for the NFL Draft after his junior season in 2011.

And as far as making the jump from college to the professional level, the Alabama product thinks he has what it takes.

“I feel like I’m going to transition pretty well," said Hightower. "I feel like I’ve got my speed back. I definitely feel with my physical play I’ll be able to come in excel just as well as anyone else.”

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (15) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

tony's picture

I love Hightower.. he's in the perfect part of the draft, probably after Kuechly goes, and where some of the bigger names slip. I'd LOVE this pick, especially with his mild experience coming off the edge. He could stop the run, which is was CM3 struggled with early.

FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

I'll take all the SEC talent we can get, especially on defense.

GBP 4 LIFE

Lars's picture

I see Hightower as the force INSIDE GB needs next to Bishop. The Packers can't go through another season with AJ Hawk in the middle---avoiding contact and playing soft.

On the outside----a guy like McClellin would be an ideal bookend next to CM3.

As for CM3 and his ability to stop the run---watch some tape of 2011.

(It's so interesting how Packer fans dance around the elephant in the room w/r to the Packers weakness at ILB.)

FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

Hightower in the 1st, Shea in the second. I could live with that. Though that probably doesn't get us a beast on the D-line, unless we could find a gem later in the draft. Boy though, our LB core would be SICK.

jay's picture

If we could snag Derek Wolfe, I'd be content. Imagine the Psycho package with CM3, Hawk/Smith, Hightower, Bishop, and McLellin.

PackersRS's picture

Even though he's not an edge rusher, I feel much more comfortable getting him than any other LB.

He's not a prospect like a lot of other guys, he's a football player. The defense will improve with him.

He's not an elite athlete but his football instincts are top notch, something you can't teach. Recognizes holes really fast, is a sure tackler that doesn't get dragged down, isn't fooled by PA and screens.

If he falls to us would be a great pick IMHO.

MarkinMadison's picture

Hightower is a real solid physical presence at ILB that was felt at the college level. Throw that in wiht RS' description, not the most athletic, but a solid football player, and he sounds fantastic. And not to rain on the parade, but that description reminds me a lot of AJ Hawk in college.

BubbaOne's picture

I just posted a mock where we traded back from 28. One of the reasons is I think the Steelers will take him ahead of us. Both the Packers and Steelers like team captains, football players over athletes, and versatility. He fits all 3. If he's there at 28 I would take him though I do love my trade back---pick 28 to KC for 44 and 74.

FITZCORE1252's EVO's picture

Link?

BubbaOne's picture

It was posted as a comment at this site on the draft order article.

I would like to see TT trade pick 28 (660 points) to KC for picks 44 and 74 (690 points):
44) Shea McClellin
60) Jared Crick or Billy Winn
74) CB’s—Fleming, or Steed, or Norman
90) Greg Childs, AJ Jenkins, or an OG
123) Safety Allen, or hybrids Judie, Prater
132) Josh Chapman
133) Ryan Lindley
163) Hebron Fanuga or OLB’s Kaddu, Wilber, J Smith
197 & 224) Trade up for Quentin Saulsberry
235) Michael Smith
241) Najae Goode
243) Chris Greenwood

ted, of bill and ted's picture

perhaps ted will trade ahead of the steelers to get him?

PackersRS's picture

And they released Farrior.

That being said, if a CB they like is available, don't think they'll pass up.

I don't remember how to properly reply anymore, apparently...

clugulager's picture

Hightower would fit in because he's too good not to. I'm ok with Hawk, much better with help up front. Shea would great, but TT would need to move up to get him. He has some wiggle room now with the comp picks.

Brian Carriveau's picture

I personally don't think the Packers would have to trade up to get Shea McClellin. He's a hot riser for sure, but kind of a pedestrian athlete as far as the drills from the Combine go. I 100% understand that's not the be all, end all factor determining good play, but I'm just not sure McClellin is first-round material is all.

MarkinMadison's picture

His 19 reps on the bench press fit in with a lot of the scouting material out there on him - he relies on speed and agility to rush the passer, and will not be able to bull rush at the next level. Another criticism is that he tends to overrun plays. If you watch this link you'll see examples of these issues.

level.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RFVe8dxfok

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