Combine Grade: 85
Those that questioned Dont'a Hightower's past knee injury were quieted when he entered the Combine healthy as a horse.
Hightower may have had the most to prove at the Combine as he is attempting to become a first round pick. The second round is most likely but the first is not out of the question.
He was a leader in the linebacker vertical jump with 32 inches, and his 40-yard time of 4.68 seconds was impressive for such a big man of 265 lbs.
The consensus best middle linebacker is Boston College's Luke Kuechly, who ran a 4.58, is still likely to be taken as the first inside linebacker. Kuechly could play in any system but Hightower is definitely best suited to play in a 3-4 system.
Hightower's main competition, Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict, was exposed in the worst way at the Combine when he ran a sluggish 5.09 40-yard, a terrible time for a guy that weighs only 248 lbs.
Add in Burfict's hot-headed nature and discipline problems and Dont'a Hightower will be the second inside linebacker taken.
The Combine said this about Hightower:
Hightower has looked the part of a starting Mike linebacker in the NFL for two years, and as an early-entry junior he has a bright future. If he can keep his weight steady and play at a fast speed, Hightower can do many of the same things that Oakland's Rolando McClain or New England's Brandon Spikes did working as the physical inside presence of a defense.
He is not the most athletic mover in space, but he uses his arms to tie up receivers within his zone and hand fight tight ends off the ball. He is technically sound, although his style of play looks effortless. There are not many wasted motions in his movements, and he takes good angles to the ball when working both sides of the field.
Hightower has a big frame and can labor at times to move in extended spaces on the field. He excels within the box but likely won't run down many scat backs at the next level. He is good to defend the pass in zone but struggles to maintain coverage in man after trying to disrupt at the line.
Take note of how they recognized his potential at taking on receiving tight ends, which are becoming incredibly important and prolific in the NFL today.