Dont’a Hightower came into the NFL with a winning pedigree from the University of Alabama. The young playmaking linebacker joined another perennial winner, the New England Patriots. Now the Patriots are rolling thanks in large part to the play of Hightower and the ever-improving defense.
Hightower has built on a solid rookie campaign with four really good games this season. He had 60 total tackles last year, and has racked up 24 takedowns in just the first four games this season, putting him on pace for 96. Throw in his impressive play against the pass, and the Patriots have a burgeoning star to go alongside fellow linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jarod Mayo.
That group of linebackers is quickly and quietly, becoming one of the better groups in the league. In the last few years, the Patriots have switched from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 scheme, fitting the skill sets of their linebackers even better — especially Hightower.
Despite playing in a 3-4 at Alabama, Hightower’s skills are better suited for the 4-3. A strong, physical defender who can make plays in space, he’s at his best when the offensive line can’t get a clean shot on him. With the extra defender on the line taking up the attention of the blockers, Hightower is free to use his superior athleticism to make plays.
The NFL is shifting back from a 3-4 league to a 4-3 league mostly in response to offenses putting more and more playmakers on the field at the same time. Hightower is excelling against these schemes, making him even more valuable to New England.
The Patriots are going to rely on their defense to get wins for the first time in over a decade. If they want to reach their goals, which are always Super Bowl or bust as long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are in town, they’re going to need Hightower to continue his ascent into the realm of the elite NFL linebackers.