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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