Name: Dont'a Hightower
Weight: 260 pounds
Due to James Farrior's declining play, the inside linebacker position has needed to be addressed for a couple of years now. Because of the cap issues the Steelers have this offseason, and the fact that Farrior is 37 years old, it's likely that the Steelers will cut him if he doesn't retire. Behind him, Larry Foote is pretty much in the same boat. That would leave the unproven 2010 5th round pick Stevenson Sylvester to inherit a pretty important position on the Steelers defense.
It's a priority to look at the available inside linebackers in this draft class, with the best of the bunch being Alabama's Dont'a Hightower.
Pros: What could make Dont'a Hightower a valuable commodity to the Pittsburgh Steelers is that he was the signal caller in a complex 3-4 defensive scheme in college at Alabama which should make for a smoother than normal transition to the Steelers defense. He has traditional size for a 3-4 linebacker at a very chiseled 6'4", 260lbs. and is a tough, physical, in-the-box type of defender.
Cons: What makes Hightower a good fit for a 3-4 defense also makes him a potential liability in coverage. While he may be fast for his size that doesn't necessarily make him fast. He wasn't exposed for it much in college but in the NFL teams may look to exploit it when he is matched up against quicker running backs in coverage.
It's not against the rules to move him outside in a rush position on passing downs in an effort to keep him out of coverage. He shows great burst off the edge, and he has the size (OLB LaMarr Woodley is 6-foot-2, 265 pounds) to play outside.
The only other issue with him is an ACL injury that kept him out a majority of the 2009 season but his production in 2011 is evidence of his recovery.
Draft Stock: Hightower's stock really couldn't get much higher at this point as he's currently slated to go in the first round, and be the first inside linebacker for a 3-4 defense to come off of the board. He could go as early at 18 to the Chargers who do need a lot of upgrades on defense and have a lot of linebackers that are currently free agents, but should be available at 24 when the Steelers pick. If the Steelers bypass him it's unlikely he would make it past the Ravens at 29 who have been looking for Ray Lewis's heir apparent.
Final Word: I see Hightower as the likely choice for the Steelers should he still be there at pick 24. With all of the issues surrounding Farrior and Foote, including the possibility one of them may be released, the Steelers must invest a pick on an ILB at some point in the draft. Sylvester hasn't shown me enough to become a starter at a very important position in the Steelers defense.
The only reservation I have about Hightower is coverage ability. As the NFL turns more into a passing league with each season linebackers as big as Hightower may be extinct as some point. While he may only be a 2-down player Hightower is worth the pick and would be a valuable addition to the team.
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