Scouting Report written by: Will Spencer
Dont’a Hightower is a true field general as a linebacker. A multi-season captain for Alabama, Hightower has returned from a torn ACL and continued to be a dominant force on defense. Instinctive, powerful, smart and versatile, he’s a fit for almost any defensive scheme. He can play a variety of positions at the next level including Sam in a 4-3, strong or weak ILB in a 3-4 and even strong side OLB in a 3-4 defense. Hightower’s coverage ability leaves a bit to be desired but he makes up for it in his excellent run stopping and pass rush abilities. Thickly built. Ideal size for a linebacker. Would be a terror for a team like the Baltimore Ravens or Pittsburgh Steelers.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of Hightower’s game. Very instinctive and quick to react to the ball carrier. Uses his hands well when engaging blockers. Keeps his eyes up when engaged, sheds the block and makes the play. Can sniff out draw plays and reverses. Trusts his instincts when he sees the play develop and will burst through the line and make a play in the backfield. Does an excellent job staying home when necessary and can set the edge when on the outside. Sometimes appears tired and allows blockers to hang around longer than usual. Punishes the ball carrier. Has shown lack of trust in his instincts and abilities at times against quick/shifty runners but this may be due to the previous knee injury. Sideline to sideline speed isn’t what you’d like to see.
The weakest area of Hightower’s game. Struggles to cover receivers in one-on-one scenarios. Has difficulty covering wide range zones. Will get caught chasing after quicker athletes in coverage. Does a solid job reading the QB’s eyes when in zone coverage. Rarely allows a receiver to run much after the catch but allows too many catches. Will have trouble matching up against athletic TE’s at the next level. Sniffs out screen passes very well. Has trouble flipping his hips and running with receivers.
Lined up in a 3-point stance on numerous occasions and shows an excellent first step for his size and time speed. Does a nice job timing the snap. Strong hands fight off blockers and he keeps his legs churning. Even if he doesn’t get to the QB he does an excellent job getting his hands up or forcing the blocker into the pocket, flushing the QB out. Limited pass rush moves but uses his hands better than many defensive line prospects. Punishes the QB when he gets there. Perhaps he’s at his best blitzing from an inside backer position. Executes stunt blitzes better than most linebacker prospects, coming right off the hip of the defensive lineman and wreaking havoc in the backfield.
A punishing tackler that loves to hammer the defender. Has strong arms and wraps the ball carrier effectively. Rarely will a ball carrier escape a tackle when he’s latched on. Will go for the big hit and miss at times. Also has a habit of leaving his feet when he has the opportunity for a kill shot.
Tore his ACL during the 2009 season and received a medical redshirt. Recovered but took a while to return to the level of play he’s capable of. May not yet have reached that level but appears to be on track.