The Story On Dont\’a Hightower

By Jeremy Hritz

More and more mock drafts are beginning to emerge as we get closer to Thursday, April 26th, and over and over, the most popular name to be called by the Steelers at number 24 is Alabama inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Conventional wisdom asserts that the Steelers will draft either an offensive lineman or Hightower with the first pick, yet the depth at the offensive line position in the draft makes it likely that the Steelers will select Hightower. Since the possibility is strong that the Steelers will take Hightower, it is worth the effort to take some time to get to know what he is all about.

Hightower, a native Tennessean who was named the state’s Most Valuable Defensive Player as a high school senior, measures in at 6’2 ¼ and 265 pounds, and he posted a 4.64 forty yard dash at his pro day on March 7th at Alabama. At 22 years old, Hightower can help upgrade the middle linebacker position for the Steelers, which has struggled over the past two years as James Farrior’s once abilities began to diminish.

Hightower was an essential component of the Crimson Tide from the outset, starting at inside linebacker as a true freshmen. During his freshmen year, he recorded 64 tackles, and finished fourth on the team in tackles. Unfortunately, after four games in his sophomore year, Hightower tore his ACL. This injury has raised some questions about Hightower’s durability, yet he returned the following year and accumulated 69 tackles. This past year in 2011 for the Tide, Hightower was the primary signal caller on defense and was responsible for ensuring that the rest of the defense knew their responsibilities. And the 2011 Tide defense wasn’t just any defense, it was ranked number one in the NCAA and pitched a shutout in the National Championship Game, 21-0 against LSU. In that game, Hightower recorded four tackles and one sack. Without question, Hightower is battle-tested from playing against top-tier talent in the SEC and is familiar with playing in big games, experiences that could predict a somewhat smooth transition to the NFL.

Most importantly about Hightower is that he is a high character guy with leadership capabilities that he exercised at Alabama in his captain role. If drafted by the Steelers, over time he could develop into the leader of the defense, a role that has been vacated by the departure of Farrior. Hightower is also an explosive player that is physical and fits the traditional prototype of a Pittsburgh Steelers’ linebacker. His penchant for annihilating running backs would make him an immediate fan favorite. While he has been questioned about his coverage abilities, Coach Dick LeBeau would find a way to ensure that he is not a liability in pass coverage.

While the majority of mock drafts have Hightower going to the Steelers, he is a player that recently has been gathering some momentum, and it is a possibility that his stock could continue to climb out of the range of the number 24 pick. Hopefully, the teams picking ahead of the Steelers have plans that don’t include Hightower because he is a player that could be a rock in the middle for many years.

  • Broderick Wallace

    I agree that Lebeau will design schemes to take advantage of Hightower’s ability to shed blockers and get to the QB. He would be a great compliment to Timmons.

  • Bleebo77

    I’ve been torn on Hightower since some worry he’ll be a liability in coverage if asked to handle a TE or RB on 1st or 2nd down. However, he also seems like a great thumper, and I think he’d be a dynamic presence in the middle while offering some pass rushing versitility. The thought of Harrison, Timmons, Hightower and Woodley as a starting 4 LBs is pretty compelling. The National Football Post has a good scouting report on Hightower; they have him as the 26th best player in the draft, which puts his value right about where the Steelers will pick. I am still leaning toward OT as the pick (and then going after an ILB like JMJ or Acho in the 4th), but if the value isn’t there, we could do a lot worse than Hightower.

  • Ortho

    No one disagrees with whether he’s a good fit. The long term stability of that knee is the concern. Given the intensity with which he plays the game, his size, the lateral and pivot moment he’ll endure at ILB, the durability questions are a cause for consideration. There are no guarantees for any draftee as we’ve seen (Baron Batch, etc.); but we want someone that can give us another 12 years of Farrior/Lewis type leadership.

  • Cols714


  • Grw1960

    Yeah I have seen it both ways with Hightower. Some big boards project him as a late 1st rounder and others say concerns about his knee and low kei number say he is a mid 2nd rounder. Who is right?
    I would say that Beauty as always is in the eye of the the team making the pick.And who else is still on the board at the same time as Hightower

  • The Steelers have a great history of finding hidden gems at LB late in the draft. Gut feeling: It makes me uncomfortable taking Hightower, and that’s not a knock on him at all.

  • Derick

    I’m in favor of drafting Hightower. BPA when #24 comes around imo. we shall see come april 26th.

  • Derick

    right now though, especially this day and age in the NFL, they actually have spent a number of high round picks on linebackers; Timmons, Woodley, and Worilds were all drafted with the first 3 rounds.

  • Joe D

    I highly doubt Steelers are going to draft a 2 down ILB….
    Since the league is going more passing…. and being in nickle coverage… Hightower will be pulled… clearly not worth a 1st round pick when they have Timmons as the other ILB.
    Seems to be more stirring the pot..
    I liked the analysis of what all the mock drafts are picking.. shows…
    OL – 10 (Adams, Glenn, Martin)
    ILB – 4
    DL – 4

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I have nightmares about Hightower going to the Ravens and turning into Ray Lewis driving us nuts for the next 10 years.

    I think he has the smarts to be what Farrior was to us. He may be a little heavy for an ILB, but he is basically the same weight as Woodley and Suggs. I would prefer he move down to maybe 250 as his playing weight.

    If he fits here, and he does, and can be successful, and is the BPA at a position of need come draft day, I expect you see his name called. I would expect we would see OG, OT and NT taken over the next 3 rounds. Then probably a WR and more OLine depth.

    Right now I think we will go:

    3….NT or OG
    4….OG or NT (whatever we didn’t do above)

  • AMEN!!

  • Bleebo77

    I just listened to the weekly Kiper/McShay draft podcast, and they reviewed the Steelers’ options at 24. They spent most of the time talking about Hightower, and McShay is really high on him. He sees an impact player, and Kiper loves the fit for what the Steelers do. In fact, apparently Hightower is “hot” in draft circles right now, and both Kiper and McShay aren’t sure he’ll be there at 1.24 for the Steelers. They say his stock has risen a lot in the last month and he may be a top 20 pick.

  • PoKey21

    I would only take him in the first if we don’t move up to get Decastro or Poe. Or if Glenn’s gone too.

  • Stan

    That’s my question as well. I can’t see them taking him if he’s not good in coverage. I don’t know if he is one way or another but if he isn’t they have to pass.

  • fire arians

    he might go higher on a team that needs a run-stuffing LB, like the eagles

  • Derick

    that is WAY too high for them to draft Hightower.

  • Derick

    as you say the league is more passing and therefore defenses are more likely to put on nickel and dime defenses thus having an extra DB in as opposed to a LB such as Hightower. So that is really not a huge worry. most linebackers can’t cover guys like Gronk, Graham, V. Davis ect… anyways. LeBeau can put in Allen and have Lewis cover guys like that or vice versa; but I like Lewis to go inside if Allen is in the play. Now a 3rd & 4 or shorter, I have all the confidence Hightower can play those downs if need so after a full season of backing up Foote and then another full off season. i’ve heard people say you can never draft too many DB’s.

  • Derick

    Why do you like Glenn @ 24? I think he will be a bust.

  • Derick

    they also traded for DeMeco Ryans

  • Nolrog

    We’re not moving up into the range that those guys will be at. You’re talking about giving up another one or a couple 2s.

  • Nolrog

    Three linemen? That would really fix the OL, but is a hefty price. I think they’ll draft a couple, maybe even a project in the 7th, but not 2 that hihg. I do see the 1, 2 and 3 being ILB, OT, NT in some order.

  • PoKey21

    According to the draft pick value chart we would have to give up our First and Second round pick to get up to the number 15 spot. Which is the range I would move up for Decastro. Our First and Third Pick to move up to the 20th where I would take Poe. That is If we trade up.

  • Nolrog

    Worlids was a 2nd rounder.
    Woodley was a 2nd rounder.
    Timmons was a 1st rounder.
    Harrison was undrafted.

  • PoKey21

    Ya i would take Glenn if he was there. I am not completely sold on him either, but I think he has as much potential as Hightower. And I believe OG is more of a pressing need than ILB. We always seem to find good LBs without drafting them in the 1st round, there was an article on here about only taking like 4 LBs in the first round since forever basically. Also I think the SEC has much Stiffer talent (Especially on the D line) to gauge who will be able to transition better to the Pros than what MAC schools offer. The SEC D lines are what separate them from the rest of the nation. Obviously, that can directly correlate to the Olineman who are considered to be the elite in the conference.

  • PoKey21

    The 2 “Draft Gurus” are some of the most over hyped analyst on ESPN. Seriously the writers on this site, and many other team blog sites have a way better feel for what a team is going to do than those 2 guys. I would actually put as much if not more faith in some of the posters on this site before Mac and Kip. Ill admit they are pretty solid for the first ten picks, but after that il go else where for draft info.

  • Jprankster2005

    I wouldnt mind Hightower, It’s ashame we won’t have Harrison that much longer he makes all the other LB’s alot better, Especially woodley and with Foote and Harrison getting older we need these young guys to be top notch…… We should be Ok because Timmons and Woodley are locked up for next 5 yrs. and even Harrison next 3 but I’m not so sure Harrison is here in the last yr. of his contract…… One of the reasons I say that is that he offered to take a restructure and they didn’t do it I’m thinking because they don’t want more dead money in the last yr. of it….. But also wouldn’t help cap space for next yr. either but we will see…. I think the best player available whatever position that be…….. I’m thinking they go Offense this yr. though

  • Jprankster2005

    Poe will be gone in the first 12….. They have Carolina taking him at 9….

  • Kenneth Wilt

    2008 was the last time the Steelers didn’t take at least 2 Olineman in a draft. I think with it being an area of need they may actually take 3 this year. Just my projection. OG is a position of need and it is a position you can get starting talent later in the draft. I expect they take a couple of shots.

  • PoKey21

    Wow, didnt realize he jumped that high. I know his Bench is amazing, but a 40 doesn’t really mean much for a nose tackle. A team would basically be dropping a Top 10 pick for a Rock in the middle, but not much else. In what is becoming more and more of a passing league. I figure teams drafting that high would have more pressing needs.

  • Bleebo77

    I know that they aren’t as in tune with team-by-team analysis as folks who cover the teams, but in this segment, they were talking about their evaluations of Hightower as a player… and they both really love him. I’m just saying that – for me – I’ll feel better about Hightower as the pick knowing that there’s a consensus among draft folks who study tape that think he’s an impact NFL player. And of course, if the Steelers actually do pick him, they must think that, too.

  • Don’tcallmerocket

    Nickel and dime packages are great, but you have to keep strength and muscle around too. You get both with Hightower. Nothing but power leadership and real football intelligence that keeps a defense together in pressure situation. Just because a league is passing more isn’t a reason shit a chicken, quick corners and sacks will still with games defensively.