The Pittsburgh Steelers said goodbye to many of the team's favorite players of the past this offseason, due to age and salary obligations, and one that has hurt more feelings than most (other than Hines Ward) would be the release of James Farrior.
Though I have spent the last two offseasons stating that it was time for the Steelers to part ways with Farior, due to his loss of speed and being a liability in the passing game, much of Steeler Nation believed that his leadership was worth his contract.
And the Steelers agreed with you—until this year.
Now that Farrior is gone, many in Steeler Nation believe that the perfect replacement will be available when the Steelers are on the clock in the first round of the NFL Draft: Dont'a Hightower.
In Alabama, Hightower played a similar system to that of the Steelers defense, so many people believe that he would be able to step right in and become a starter for the Steelers.
Not going to happen.
Look, even if the Steelers do decide to draft Hightower, there is almost no chance he will come in in 2012 and make any type of impact. Yes, he was in a similar system in Alabama, but what is run in college and what is run by Dick LeBeau are not even close.
It took Lawrence Timmons three years to learn the ILB position of LeBeau and Troy Polamalu looked like a rookie in his rookie season. To expect Hightower to come in THIS year and be anything other than a rookie is simply placing your hopes WAY too high.
To add to that, Hightower will be fourth on the Steelers' depth chart, behind Timmons, Foote and Sylvester. That means that he will not get the coaching of a starter and will need at least a year, maybe two, before he can contribute.
In those two years, Foote will be shown the door as Farrior was this past year and Sylvester, who already has two years of experience in the system, will have the advantage over Hightower. Any ILB that is selected will be third on the depth chart, at best, for the next two years.
Unless, of course, he can come in and impress the coaches, and to even ask him to do that, while trying to learn the LeBeau playbook, is simply unfair to him.
Then look at factor No. 2: Hightower is not a typical Steelers ILB—he is more like one of the Steelers' OLB.
Timmons—6'1", 234 lbs.
Foote—6'2", 239 lbs.
Woodley—6'2", 265 lbs.
Harrison—6'0", 242 lbs.
Hightower—6'2", 265 lbs.
Having been a HUGE fan of former Steeler ILB, Lavon Kirkland, I will be the last one to say a big ILB is a disadvantage, but Kirkland ran like he was 235 lbs. and could cover either the TE or RB from most teams.
One of the biggest knocks on Hightower is that he does not have the speed to play the ILB.
Part of the biggest reason that I believed Farrior needed to go was because of his lack of speed. By knowing that the Steelers would be blitzing Farrior and that Timmons would be forced to play coverage hurt the Steelers defense, because it took away much of the confusion of which ILB would be blitzing. Bringing in Hightower would keep that same issue and it would hurt the stats of Timmons as well.
I think part of the reason that Steeler Nation is so high on Hightower is because they already miss Potsey. And I can understand that. But, it is not a reason to waste a first-round pick on a player who does not fit the mold of the position the Steelers are trying to fill.
IF, on the other hand, they want to draft Hightower and say from Day 1 that he is being moved to OLB to be the eventual replacement for Harrison, and they are going to give him a year or two to groom behind Harrison, I will be all for this pick.
But, to try and fit a square peg into a round hole simply isn't the Steelers' way, and it won't be in the first round this year.