Our pick is in! Thanks go to maryrose for his assessment of a ‘backer from ‘Bama that has been a very hot topic around these parts for quite awhile. Next up: Denver Broncos and they’ll be represented by Ram_india.
By the way, take note of the cool little minute-long draft profiles from SBN NFL that are embedded with these picks. It’s been Michael Bean’s personal project to make these videos happen, and let us know what you think of them! -barnerburner-
Well Steeler Nation, for those of you who debate Need versus Best Player Available, or disagree on how much “need” actually weighs into the Steelers draft board, you can put all that talk to rest for a year. Pittsburgh is going to hit the daily double in 2012 by getting the best football player available at pick #24, who happens to come at a time of great need. James Farrior is gone after a wonderful career at inside linebacker for the Steelers. Larry Foote is a serviceable but fading back-up and Stevenson Sylvester may yet develop, but is still unknown. What is not unknown is that Pittsburgh’s gracefully aging defense could use a youthful facelift in the middle of Dick LeBeau’s chessboard.
Welcome Dont’a Hightower, who is a prototype inside backer in the 3-4 scheme, a consensus first-team All American who played on the best team in the country (Alabama) against the best collegiate competition (SEC). Hightower was the centerpiece of the country’s number one scoring defense (8.8 ppg), rush defense (75 ypg) and total defense (191 ypg).
Hightower is 6’4″, weighs 268 pounds and has 33-inch arms and 10-inch hands. You might not be able to build a better successor to Farrior if you had Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. He is above the line in just about every aspect of the position, and is no small reason why Alabama was so incredible defensively en route to a national championship. Scouts Inc. gives him a 93 rating. Only 16 prospects have a higher rating and only one, Luke Kuechly, at the inside backer position. A thumbnail glance of Hightower’s resume includes:
Finalist for the Lombardi Award
Finalist for the Butkus Award
Finalist for the Bednarik Award
Finalist for the Lott Trophy
Midseason All-American by CBSsports.com
National Player of the Week and SEC Defensive Player of the Week (Tennessee)
SEC Defensive Player of the Week (Mississippi State)
Accumulated 230 career tackles with 19.5 tackles for loss and 25 quarterback hurries while starting 41 career games
Eight-time Alabama Defensive Player of the Week
The primary function of a middle linebacker in the 3-4 scheme has historically been to stop the run. The three linemen eat up blockers and the middle guys clean up the ball carrier and rack up tackling stats. Hightower is an outstanding tackler, something essential to a Tomlin-LeBeau defense. He seeks, he hits, he wraps and he closes. Whatever damage has been done, if any, will come to a halt when Hightower meets the football. Moreover, the simplicity of this formula is changing in the ever-evolving, pass-happy NFL. The new offensive formula is for teams to rack up yardage and points via the air rather than the old-school ground-and-pound game. This suits Dont’a Hightower just fine. Consider that an increasing percentage of the passes in the “new NFL” are made in west coast fashion or short-yardage fashion. Most passes are thrown and caught within seven yards of the line of scrimmage, either by designed quick-hitters, the ever popular checkdowns, or the west coast catch-and-run game. It is imperative that defenses have the antidote for this. A young buck (pun intended), stud, hungry and athletic linebacker in the middle of all that short-passing activity is just what the doctor ordered.
Hightower’s instincts and recognition are off the charts. He is quick to diagnose run or pass and has the instincts to angle to where he needs to be. He plays a disciplined game and stays within himself and the job description at hand. He is also a strong man who can shed blocks with his head on a swivel to locate the ball carrier. Hightower’s hips and leverage are a linebacker’s best friend and his long arms and large hands will help him add a few more tackles to his stat sheet. Hightower displays good awareness in coverage, diagnoses play-action quickly and shows a good feel in underneath-middle zone. His strength and instincts will help him to be an effective pass rusher in LeBeau’s exotic zone rushing schemes. His strong, long arms allow a pretty good rip move to rush the quarterback.
The downsides to Hightower should be mentioned in the fairness of full disclosure. Misdirection plays can sometimes fool him and he’ll need some guidance from linebackers coach Keith Butler to improve in that area. He is also stronger than he is fast, so his zone coverage skills are better than defending man-to-man, and don’t look for him to make many downfield tackles. His lateral agility is average at best and he sometimes leaves his feet too early. Hightower was injured twice in college, once with an ACL and once with a hand injury, both requiring surgeries. Fortunately, his conditioning and work ethic helped him bounce back from both of those setbacks.
An inside linebacker needs to be a leader, or in the case of a rookie, needs to develop into one. Hightower was a team captain at Alabama in both his junior and senior seasons. He has a fabulous work ethic and will do “whatever it takes,” (Coach Noll), to get the job done. He is tuned into all the right nutritional aspects of being a world-class athlete and takes his conditioning and training regimen very seriously. He has no off-field baggage concerns and graduated from Alabama in three-and-a-half years. What is not to like about the total package of this young man? Does he sound like a Pittsburgh Steeler to you?
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