Dont'a Hightower of the Alabama Crimson Tide returns an interception against the Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 22, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
With all of the hysteria surrounding Tuesday's release of the 2012 NFL Schedule, a very interesting tidbit of New York Giants news flew well below the radar both Tuesday and again Wednesday morning.
Mike mentioned in today's 'news and notes' that Peter King reported that Alabama middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower visited with the Giants on Tuesday. As far as we know at this point, Hightower is the most high profile 2012 NFL Draft prospect to have had an official visit with the Giants.
Could Hightower be the pick next Thursday at No. 32? It's possible. Hightower is ranked No. 31 on the DraftTek Big Board, No. 26 on the National Football Post Big Board, No. 26 on the Sports Illustrated Big Board and No. 25 by Draft Countdown.
If Hightower is still on the board at No. 32 the Giants might not need to find out the answers to those questions. How does a Hightower-Boley-Rivers triumvirate sound to you? A group, by the way, that would open the possibility of Mathias Kiwanuka moving back to defensive end, where the Giants did lose Dave Tollefson and have to replace the 575 snaps he played in 2011.
The one thing that concerns me about Hightower, who is 6-foot-2, 260 pounds, is that some reports indicate he might be better in a 3-4. The fact that he might also be considered a liability in pass coverage does not concern me as much, since the Giants often take a linebacker off the field in passing downs.
Here are a couple of scouting reports on Hightower that were not available when I wrote the Hightower Prospect Profile.
Positives: Large, powerful run-defending linebacker who displays the ability to be a difference-maker. Breaks down well, effectively uses his hands to protect himself and is powerful at the point. Forceful up the field, defeats blocks on his way to the ballcarrier and is a tremendous open-field tackler. Easily brings down ballcarriers at the initial point of contact. Remains disciplined with assignments and does a solid job reading the action. Delivers devastating hits and is an intimidating force. Flashes skill in zone coverage.
Negatives: Does not always play with a great sense of urgency and seems like he's going half speed at times. Lacks top lateral speed and struggles cutting off the corners from ballcarriers. Does not possess a quick backpedal and can be a liability in one-on-one coverage situations.
Analysis: Hightower is a dominant run-defending linebacker who could play in the middle of a conventional defense or a 3-4 alignment. He possesses a great amount of upside and will produce at the next level if he focuses on the task at hand and plays in the proper system.
From Draft Countdown:
• Outstanding frame and bulk with long arms
• Strong, powerful and will deliver the big hit
• Extremely stout run defender inside the box
• Shows the ability to take on / shed blockers
• Plays with heavy, violent and active hands
• Still has potential as pass rusher and blitzer
• Excellent instincts with a very high football IQ
• Will offer positional and schematic versatility
• Respected team leader and served as captain
• Mature and motivated with a great work ethic
• Struggles in space and is a liability in coverage
• Stiff with limited range, explosiveness and burst
• Not real agile and doesn't change directions well
• Limited repertoire of pass rush moves / counters
• Questionable motor and is too protective of legs
• May have some durability and conditioning issues
Much better against the run than the pass and may need to be protected within a scheme --- Could project to either inside or outside linebacker in a 3-4 or middle linebacker in a 4-3 but best fit will likely come in an odd front similar to the role he played in college --- Classic thumper with rare size and top intangibles.