Throughout this offseason, while going through all of the pre-draft preparations, one name continues to be linked with the Pittsburgh Steelers as their first round selection, Alabama inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower. While most outsiders may view inside linebacker as an are of need, and maybe at quick glance it is, with the release of long-time linebacker James Farrior. However, true fans of the game will already know that Farrior was a shell of himself last season and as painful as it might seem, he did not do much in 2011.
That situation now comes full circle, as the Steelers invited Hightower in for a visit. For many, it is considered signs of things to come in the draft and already have him penciled in as the Buck linebacker for years to come. The question remains, is he the answer?
Hightower is a big (6-2, 265 pound) and physical presence in the middle of the defense. More importantly for some, he is experienced in the pro-style 3-4 alignment that the Crimson Tide uses under head coach Nick Saban. He is a versatile linebacker with explosive pass rush skills, who could ultimately transition outside to a rush linebacker spot in a 3-4 scheme. Besides being one of the better blitzer’s in this class, he is a dominant run stuffer that has enough strength and physicality to man the middle of a defense.
While he is aggressive and has good instincts, he has only fair reaction time and may lack the agility needed to be a true three-down linebacker in the NFL. A solid zone performer, he may not have the speed or athleticism to mirror tight ends, backs or receivers in man coverage down the middle, and may struggle in pass coverage in the NFL. He did time out at a 4.68 40-yard dash at the combine, whish is solid for a player his size, but he does not seem to be the quick twitch player fans are envisioning.
If any team could find a way to maximize his talents it is Pittsburgh, where the Steelers made a household name out of a another larger-than-expected inside linebacker in Levon Kirkland. Only time will tell if he is the Steelers target or if he will be available at pick 24. He is the number two ranked inside linebacker in the class, and there may be a few teams such as the Seattle Seahawks who could be interested earlier in the draft. In the end, he could be a solid addition to the linebacker corps and could be the Steelers pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
As we have done throughout this process, Steelers101 will continue to profile the pre-draft visitors. To date, we have completed 4 of the 7 linebacker prospects that have made their way to Pittsburgh. Below is a list of visitors with the completed profiles annotated and hyperlinked, feel free to check them out.
California Inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks (Steelers101 profile 4/10)
Miami (Florida) defensive end / linebacker Olivier Vernon(Steelers101 profile 4/16)
USC defensive end / linebacker Nick Perry (Steelers101 profile 4/24)
Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower
Clemson defensive end / outside linebacker Andre Branch
Virginia defensive end / linebacker Cam Johnson
Alabama linebacker Jerrell Harris
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