A player that is selected in the first round of the NFL Draft is usually expected to be franchise player at his position. So far, that is not the case with Dont’a Hightower, who is struggling to live up to his first-round hype.
Hightower has been nearly invisible in his last three games, tallying just 11 tackles combined. His game tape has not been that impressive either. The second-year linebacker has struggled to make plays, looking very slow when he runs from sideline to sideline. This makes Hightower a very appealing target for opposing quarterbacks as he is more suited to stuff the run.
It is hard for the 270-pound Hightower to be a three-down linebacker, but that is what is expected out of him. Many scouts said that the drop-off between him and Luke Kuechly (who was selected ninth overall in the very same draft) wasn’t, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Kuechly can stay on the field on third down.
If we take third down out of our minds, the most we can hope for Hightower to be is another Brandon Spikes. The comparison is not even close right now. Spikes is an impact run defender and actually has more combined tackles (68) than Hightower does (58) so far. That is terrible for Hightower considering that Spikes is often removed on third down.
Obviously Hightower is only 23 years old and still growing, but Bill Belichick had to have expected more out of a linebacker that was said to be one of the safest picks in last year’s draft. There is still time, however. Hightower just needs to be more physical and involve himself in more plays to live up to his draft status or risk getting lost in the shuffle.
Philip Alexander is a New England Patriots writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @steely0906, “like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.