Donta Hightower

Draft Grades: New England Patriots

The New England Patriots are always a tough team to predict in the draft, and Bill Belichick proved why once again. Belichick builds his own draft board and sticks to it, regardless of how it matches up with the consensus opinion.

I was somewhat surprised by the trade up for Chander Jones, but I like the pick. He’s a perfect fit at end/linebacker in the Patriots hybrid defense. And while he’s still developing, Jones has the potential to be a true three-down lineman.

The selection of Dont’a Hightower felt like a slight reach in my opinion, and it’s tough to figure out how he’ll fit in the Patriots defense. That said, Belichick stacks his draft board with players whom he sees a specific role for in his defense, so I have no doubt that they have a plan for him.

While I’m willing to give Belichick the benefit of the doubt with Hightower, I can’t be so generous with the selection of Tavon Wilson. He’ll provide some much needed depth in the secondary but it’s tough to imagine him ever developing into a starter. Belichick does not have a strong track record drafting defensive backs, and this is just the latest slip up.

Jake Bequette was a great 3rd-round pick. He’ll have a chance to compete for a starting job, and should be used as part of the rotation at defensive end. He’s not an explosive pass rusher, but should be an asset on running downs.

Nate Ebner was the biggest 6th-round reach I’ve ever seen. He’s a former rugby player who was exclusively a special teams contributor at Ohio State. His measurables are impressive, but it’s tough to justify spending a 6th-round pick and a roster spot on a guy with so much development needed.

Alfonzo Dennard was overrated and his recent arrest led to his fall, but he was well worth the risk in the 7th round. However, it’s difficult to understand why the Patriots waited until the 7th round to address their need for a cornerback. Depth at the position was serious issue last year and relying on Dennard to fix the problem is a risk.

Jeremy Ebert will be Belichick’s latest project at receiver. He was productive at Northwestern and has the skill set necessary to contribute in the Welker/Edleman role. However, it’s getting crowded at the receiver position in New England and he’ll have a tough time making the final roster cuts.

Overall, this was just a so-so draft for the Patriots. They made some significant upgrades to their defensive front-seven, but the secondary was essentially ignored. It’s tough to imagine Wilson, Ebner or Dennard providing any meaningful contributions this season, which could mean their passing defense struggles from last season will carry over to 2012.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2012, Patriots Comments Off

New England Patriots select Dont’a Hightower, Grade B

I’m not crazy about this pick for the New England Patriots, but I’ll give Bill Belichick the benefit of the doubt. I don’t see Dont’a Hightower as a great fit in New England’s defense, but I have to assume Belichick has a specific plan for him. It will be interesting to see where he lines up, either at inside or outside linebacker. Or maybe even at defensive end in some 4-3 sets.

I probably would have added a defensive back here, such as Harrison Smith, especially considering the fact that they already added Chandler Jones earlier in the round.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Patriots 1 Comment

Dont’a Hightower scouting report

Dont’a Hightower ILB Alabma #30
Ht: 6’4″

Wt: 260

Elite size and strength. A physical defender who has the strength to shed blocks. A reliable wrap-up tackler, but also has the ability to deliver the hard hit. Displays great discipline; does a nice job keeping his eyes in the backfield and staying in his zone. A team leader on the field; does a great job making sure his teammates are in position. Experienced lining up all over the field; has played inside and outside linebacker in the 3-4 base defense, and also with his hand on the ground in some 4-3 sets.
Suffered torn ACL and MCL in 2009. Knows where to be in coverage, but lacks the athleticism to be effective. Below-average speed for his position; will struggle to match up with athletic tight ends and running backs in man coverage at the next level. Limited explosiveness and agility; won’t be a consistent pass-rusher if lined up on the outside.
Hightower is an intriguing versatile prospect who can play inside or outside in a 3-4 scheme, and could potentially play defensive end in a 4-3 system. However, while the versatility is nice, it also makes him a bit of a ‘tweener. He lacks the explosiveness to be a consistent pass rusher if lined up on the outside, but also lacks the quick-twitch athleticism to be consistent dropping into coverage if lined up on the inside. It would be interesting to see if his quickness and speed improved if he dropped down to about 245-250 pounds.
Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Scouting Reports - 2012 Comments Off