The 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide defense was the stuff that legends are made of, and you can tell by the number of players that were taken early in the draft. Dont'a Hightower was one of the leaders of that crew.
He started as a true freshman, and he became a captain as a junior. More of a thumper at 6'2" 265 pounds, he isn't a sideline-to-sideline linebacker, but Hightower can rush the passer from the edge on third down, where he often looked as good as teammate Courtney Upshaw.
Hightower's scouting reports emphasize the strength and physicality in his game.
Productive, combines good instincts and fair reaction time for his size. Missing the quick-twitch acceleration, and thus reaction speed, to project as an All-Pro type. Stonewalls ballcarriers in the hole with the size and leverages one-on-one to churn legs and prevent forward push. Big-bodied with a defensive end's frame to drive linemen blocks inside with the thick arms to maintain distance and shed or scrape to the play. ... Reacts quickly enough to shed blocks or grab the legs of backs through a hole. Does not have elite edge speed but started to beat tackles with quickness and violent hands consistently. Heady player, often directed traffic. Took the leadership handoff from Rolando McClain as a redshirt sophomore. Spends a lot of time in the weight and film room.
A big-bodied, physical run stuffer with deceptive movement skill and edge-setting strength to play outside, Hightower took time to recover from the ACL injury he suffered two years ago and has shown a tendency to play too cautiously since returning to the field. Is regarded as a two-down 3-4 "Mike" linebacker by some NFL teams but might fit best outside in an odd front given his physicality to control the line of scrimmage and stack the corner. His ability to kick outside on third downs enhances his value. Is scheme-diverse and versatile and has Pro Bowl potential when healthy.
After 2008, Dont'a Hightower would have probably projected as a top-10 pick, like the player he replaced, Rolando McClain. Now, he may get his start in the base defense on run downs, but he won't be dropping into pass coverage. As a result, he could wait to work his way onto the field.
Once he does he'll be hard to get off, as he's a hard-nosed player who sets an example on and off the field. He won't be one of the dominant inside linebackers in the game, but he'll be known as one of the most punishing in the league.
The Patriots trade up AGAIN, this time grabbing Alabama's Dont'a Hightower. He'll immediately bolster New England's tattered front seven and should be a rotational player, if not a starter, from day one.