A physical player at the point of attack that is a fierce hitter. He does a very good job filling against the run and can step up, get low and drive through the ballcarrier in the hole. Doesn't shy from taking on blockers at the point of attack. Does a nice job using hands to get leverage and shed lineman. Will take on the lead blocker in the hole and win either by standing up the ballcarrier behind him, or freeing up teammates to make the play. Does a nice job avoiding trash and cut blocks at times when he's working in pursuit. Can shed blockers on the second level and flow to the football. Does a nice job attacking downhill with good closing burst on the ball in pursuit. Has a nice first step when he lines up as a pass rusher. Able to play with his hand in the dirt and be functional as a rush end in nickel situations. Will use his hands at times and get under the tackle's pads to turn the corner. Does a good job as an interior blitzer because of his straight-line burst through gaps, that also allows him to make stops in the backfield against the run. Does a nice job working in zone coverage, able to keep things in front him. Does a nice job reading the quarterback's eyes and then breaking on the throw. Can deliver the big hit to the underneath receiver to separate him from the ball.
Is not really a fluid athlete when he plays in space. Needs work in man coverage and doesn't really have the hips to turn and run with receivers. Lacks the ideal burst to really make a lot of plays in coverage even if he reads the play correctly, and breaks on the throw. Doesn't wow you with his top-end speed or range, and doesn't make many plays outside the hashmarks. Can get caught overpursuing in the open field, and will miss some stops when he's on the edge as a run defender. At times will play on his heels when it comes to filling vs. the run at the point of attack, not always going to make the play. Tries to juke the blocker at times when he lines up at end.
HIghtower is an excellent run-defending inside linebacker in Alabama's 3-4 scheme. He was injured his sophomore year where he played the WILL spot alongside Rolando McClain. Before he got hurt, I saw a game where he looked better than McClain. In 2010, he came back and had a nice year, but took another step forward this past year with a year more receovered fromt he injury. He has similar tools as McClain, although doesn't quite have the range that McClain has. He is a smart, disciplined player that is a physical presence in the middle of a defense. But it remains a question of how much he can impact in the passing game at the next level.
2011 GAMES WATCHED:
(10/22) vs. Tennessee: 0.5 stuffs, 1 sack, 2 pressures, 2 QB hits, 1 target, 0 rec., 0 yds, 1 INT, 2 PD
(11/5) vs. LSU: 1 stuff, 2 pressures, 1 QB hit; 1 tgt., 1 rec., 5 yds, 0 YAC, 0 TDS
(1/9) vs. LSU 1.5 TFLs, 1 sack, 2.5 pressures, 1 FF; 2 tgt., 2 rec., 15 yds, 7.5 avg, 6 YAC, 0 TDs
2011: 13 GP/13 GS, 85 tackles, 11.0 TFLs, 4.0 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PDs, 1 FF, 0 FR; 1 blocked kick
- tore ACL in his left knee in 2009, missing 9 games; granted a medical redshirt
Hightower is a tailor-made fit for an inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. As a run plugger, he's as good as you're going to typically see at the collegiate level. I think McClain was a bit more instinctual and rangy than Hightower is, but I think they have similar ability and upside. But I also think Hightower could play other roles in other schemes. In a 4-3 scheme, he could make a competent strongside linebacker, if he plays in a scheme that wants him to play up on the line of scrimmage. He is also a good pass rusher that could even kick out to the outside in a 3-4 or even put his hand on the ground as a situational guy in the 4-3. He wouldn't be great in those roles, but he would be at least a competent starter in most. And because of that, a 3-4 team that is going to be very multiple with their fronts, move guys around, and really try to confuse offenses will fall in love with Hightower. The only real issue for him is coverage. He's not a guy you want trying to run with good tight ends or backs. He is good at keeping things in front of him, and has good awareness in zone, but he's not going to make a lot of plays. That shouldn't be a huge issue for the 3-4 as it tends to be for the 4-3. He would fit well in Pittsburgh because they don't need him as much in coverage with Timmons there. He can fill that role as the run plugger that Farrior use to, and he plays with an edge that could vie with James Harrison as who is the fiercest player on their defense. Dick LeBeau would turn him into a perennial Pro Bowler, but I'm not sure he'll be quite as good in other schemes. He'll still be a good player, but similar to McClain who is playing in a 4-3, he won't be mentioned in the same breath as the top guys as Farrior was in his prime.
James Farrior, Steelers.
Hightower would be the sort of plugger in the middle that Lofton wasn't. While Lofton was a good run plugger, he was never great about taking on blockers. Hightower although a limited cover man, seems to possess better instincts there as well. In Atlanta, in an eventual 3-4 scheme he would work well teamed with Weatherspoon on the inside. Hightower is the big, physical plugger, while Weatherspoon is the more rangy cover guy and they could complement each other just as ably as Farrior and Timmons did in Pittsburgh. And similar to the 4e9rs, you could have the Falcons sporting two perennial Pro Bowlers in the middle of their defense for many years to come.
If the Steelers were picking in the Top 8-12 picks, he would be worth it for them. For most other teams that run 3-4 schemes, but may not mirror the LeBeau style, he's still a solid first round pick but probably more of a mid-first round guy that should be a nice Top 20-25 pick. A 4-3 team probably would wait a bit longer since he doesn't have the ideal attributes to excel there, but can definitely help improve such a team's run defense by a large degree.
1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite
Point of Attack: 9.0
Pass Rush: 7.0
"Vincere scis, Hannibal, victoria uti nescis" -- Maharbal, 216 B.C.E.