With Brandon Spikes now done for the season, Matt Patricia will now be searching for a New England Patriots inside linebacker to replace him. It will not be easy, as Spikes brought run-stuffing prowess and physicality to the game. However, there is a player capable of doing it, and that is Dont’a Hightower.
Hightower was a first-round draft pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, but has yet to live up to that status. Many scouts said that he was a consolation prize to Luke Kuechly, who has turned out to be one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL right now. There is no way that Hightower is even in that class.
One thing that Hightower has noticeably struggled in is coverage. The 6-foot-3, 270 pound linebacker has been constantly burned this season. Even announcers have gone out of their way to wonder as to how a 270 pound linebacker is supposed to fare well in covering guys that are at least 60 pounds lighter.
There is no easy answer to that question. Hightower is by no means as slow as Spikes, but the former is just too heavy to be chasing opposing running backs and tight ends down the field. At this point, he is no better than Spikes.
Some people have categorized Hightower as “soft” when it comes to the running game, because nobody ever sees him make any splash plays, so the assumption is that he not the playmaker that he was supposed to be when he was drafted. While that notion is certainly understandable, a lack of splash plays does not make Hightower a bad player.
Nevertheless, it is now Hightower’s time to make some splash plays. He is a bruising 270 pounds, so he should be more than capable to make some stops in the ground game. While the passing game might not be his thing, people should expect Hightower to at least be a poor man’s version of Spikes during this Patriots’ playoff run.
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.