As the New York Giants prepare for the 2012 NFL Draft, Giants GM Jerry Reese has the luxury of picking the best available talent with the 32nd overall pick. One player whose name has been linked to the Giants has been Alabama linebacker Don’t’a Hightower.
Hightower comes with a bit of a medical history as he tore his ACL in the fourth game of 2009 and was a medical redshirt in 2010. However, he came back last year and showed scouts he was fully recovered as he made 79 tackles and helped lead the Crimson Tide to the National Championship.
Hightower is big for an inside linebacker (6-2, 265 pounds) but possesses very good speed for someone his size. He has phenomenal strength and uses his strength and size to shed blockers and drive through to the ball carrier. He has excellent instincts and can quarterback a defense. His work in coverage isn’t the best but he can handle his own. He might have trouble with some of the faster tight ends and running backs in coverage but he has excellent awareness which allows him to diagnose plays and get a jump on the receiver. His strength comes against the running game where he uses his instincts to take good angles to the runner. Hightower has shown some ability to rush the passer but he was not asked to do much of that at Alabama. He should be able to take on interior offensive linemen due to his size and ability to shed blockers but don’t expect him to be a double-digit sack kind of player.
Overall, Hightower is one of the best inside linebackers in this draft. He is a leader on and off the field and lets his work do most of the talking. Hightower will be drawing a lot of attention from other teams but if there is a run on other positions he could fall into the Giants lap.
Last year the Giants invested heavily in their linebacking corps in the draft when they selected Greg Jones and Jacquian Williams and then signed Mark Herzlich as an undrafted free agent. Jones, Williams, and Herzlich all started at one point or another last season after injuries depleted the linebacking corps. Jonathan Goff and Clint Sintim went down with season ending injuries. Goff is a free agent and it is likely the Giants won’t re-sign him. Sintim hasn’t lived up to his potential after the Giants drafted him in the second round of the 2009 draft. At one point the Giants were forced to pluck Chase Blackburn out of the classroom where he was working as a substitute teacher. He would go on to play an integral role in the Giants playoff run after Herzlich went down with an ankle injury. The Giants learned the hard way last season that one cannot have enough depth.
Adding a player like Hightower would enable the Giants to keep Michael Boley on the outside where he flourished last season, when he was healthy. Or, the Giants could take advantage of Hightower’s combination of size and speed and put him opposite Boley on the strong side while allowing Mathias Kiwanuka to move back to defensive end to help offset the loss of Dave Tollefson who signed with the Raiders. The player Hightower reminds me the most of is Carl Banks and if you can grab a player like that with the 32nd overall pick you have to take the shot.