Green Bay Packers 2012 Draft: Profiling Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama
In the week leading up to the draft, there are a lot of rumors and moving pieces surrounding teams' draft boards.
However, for the Packers, nothing has changed in regards to their needs. Improving their defense was, and still is, the team's primary concern. In almost every statistical category, the Packers' defense was among the worst in the league.
Every level of the defense—the line, the linebackers, and the defensive backs—deserves some of the blame for an early playoff exit following a 15-1 regular season. Perhaps the biggest individual problem with Green Bay's defense was the lack of a consistent pass rush.
In the past couple days, we've profiled two pass rushers who could be of interest to the Packers with the 28th overall pick—Boise State's Shea McClellin and Alabama's Courtney Upshaw.
One of Upshaw's college teammates, fellow linebacker Dont'a Hightower, would be an intriguing option for the Packers in round one.
Despite his more natural position being inside linebacker, Alabama head coach Nick Saban took full advantage of Hightower's versatility by occasionally using him in a three-point stance on passing downs. With a bigger need at outside linebacker than at inside linebacker, Hightower's immediate impact for the Packers could come on the outside.
Green Bay is thin at inside linebacker behind starters A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop, so Hightower's versatility would provide flexibility and depth to the linebacking corps.
A little over a month ago, I examined the possibility of Green Bay bracing itself for the eventual release of Hawk following the 2012 season. Hawk failed to live up to the five-year, $33.75 million contract he signed last March, but the Packers would suffer a massive cap hit if they wanted to release him this offseason. However, Green Bay could cut ties with Hawk following the 2012 season and receive a much smaller cap hit of $3.2 million.
Packers GM Ted Thompson always has his eyes on the future, and he has a tendency to replace someone a year prior to the player's departure.
Hightower made a name himself in the early stages of his collegiate career. As a freshman, Hightower played alongside eventual top-ten pick Rolando McClain. McClain labeled a young Hightower as "a freak who can play any position."
Hightower played well until he blew out his knee during his sophomore season in 2009. He didn't regain his elite form until last season, when the Crimson Tide went on to defeat the LSU Tigers for the BCS National Championship.
Hightower entered the draft process as an afterthought to Upshaw, but it now appears as if Hightower could come off the board before his college teammate.
Although it's hard to consider any pre-draft rumors as facts, there have been rumblings that the Seahawks want to move down a few spots and that Hightower is the player they covet. If the draft order stays as is, the earliest Hightower could hope to come off the board is probably 16 to the New York Jets, and the worst-case scenario for him would be one of the last couple picks in round one.
It no longer seems possible that Hightower, with his scheme versatility and leadership qualities, could fall into the second round.
If Hightower is available for Green Bay with the 28th overall pick, he'll certainly be in the discussion within Ted Thompson's war room.
The Packers have an immediate hole at outside linebacker, and they're expected to fill this hole early in the draft.
With the uncertainty surrounding Hawk's future in Green Bay, selecting Hightower would give the Packers some options in both the present and future.
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