Hightower has looked the part of a starting Mike linebacker in the NFL for two years, and as an early-entry junior he has a bright future.
If he can keep his weight steady and play at a fast speed, Hightower can do many of the same things that Oakland's Rolando McClain or New England's Brandon Spikes did working as the physical inside presence of a defense.
Hightower could be a better fit within a 3-4 scheme, as he has the size to shed big offensive linemen who would work free to block him in the run game.
He is technically sound, although his style of play looks effortless. There are not many wasted motions in his movements, and he takes good angles to the ball when working both sides of the field.
Although Hightower doesn't quite possess the speed to be a true sideline-to-sideline inside backer or be the sole tackler in the middle of a 3-4 defense, he uses his instincts well and remains in position.
Hightower struggles to flip his hips in man looks, and there are times when he has to change direction unexpectedly. He isn't heavy-footed, but he pursues the ball with a lot of momentum and can overshoot plays at times."
The former Tennessee high school "Mr. Football" started 12 of 14 games in his initial season on campus, earning Freshman All-American and All-SEC honors by making 64 stops, 2.5 for loss, and six quarterback pressures.
In the fourth game of the 2009 season against Arkansas, however, he suffered a torn left ACL on a cut block, ending his season after making 16 tackles, four for loss and a sack.
Hightower earned second-team All-SEC accolades from league coaches and media in 2010 while starting at mike and will linebacker (69 tackles, 3.5 for loss, nine QB hurries), though it was clear his knee was not fully healthy (and football stamina had not fully returned) until later in the year.
Scouts will likely view a healthy Hightower as a slightly more athletic version of former SEC star linebacker Brandon Spikes, a 3-4 ILB with potential to be a long-time NFL starter. A strong 2011 season could land him in the first round.
Read & React: Productive player who combines very good instincts and fair reaction time for his size. Seems to find the ball through trash pretty well inside. Does not take many false steps against play action, and gets into his drop in a hurry. Sometimes a lack of quick-twitch acceleration lets down his reaction speed, making him a step behind the play.
Run Defense: Solid run-stuffer with good mobility between the hashes. Stones backs of all sizes in the hole. Leverages one-on-one or multi-player piles, churns legs to prevent forward push. Big bodied defender handles lineman blocks inside with thick arms to maintain distance and shed or scrape to the play.
Flashes hustle to reach option toss outside after taking steps inside. Aggressive defensive scheme gives him a lot of chances to make plays on run blitzes. Still lacks speed to take aggressive angles to the ball outside, backs will run past him. Height leaves him susceptible to cut blocks, takes time to recover if stopped.
Pass Defense: On the field in third-and-long situation despite his average speed because of his zone acumen. Drops to first-down marker fairly quickly and watches for crossers in front of him. Very aware of backs going into their routes. Gives effort to attack throws to the sideline.
Lacks speed and short-area quickness to handle NFL slot receivers and better tight ends in man coverage for more than a few steps, and can struggle to catch up on misdirection plays, but he can manhandle receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Tackling: Strong head-on tackler who gets low and wraps ballcarriers of all sizes. Reacts quickly enough to shed blocks or grab the legs of backs as they explode through a hole. Gives good chase to the sideline.
Leaves his feet to grab elusive ballcarriers in space using his size and strength, though he will occasionally whiff and difficulty making those plays increases in the NFL. Inconsistent breaking down when attack open field targets, misses chances when bending over to smother instead of wrap.
Pass Rush/Blitz: Regular blitzer, vs. the pass and the run, because of his size and strong hands. Does not have elite edge speed but started to beat tackles with quickness and violent hands more consistently late in 2010. Also capable of knocking running backs and off-balance lineman to the ground with his strength at initial contact.
Only average change of direction ability to recover once taken out of the pocket. Lines up with his hand on the ground at times, could be used there in the NFL as a third-down change-up with length, quickness off the snap, and flexibility to turn the corner.
Intangibles: Heady player who often directs traffic on the field. Worked hard to rehab from serious knee injury. Took the leadership handoff from Rolando McClain as a redshirt sophomore. Spends a lot of time in the weight and film rooms. No known character or work ethic issues."
Isn't nearly as stiff as his size would indicate. Showcases good foot quickness for his size, natural balance when trying to change directions and can pick his way through the line of scrimmage. Doesn't have a great first step or great range sideline-to-sideline. But keys well, is fast enough and showcases a slight burst when closing into contact.
Looks like a 4.8 guy when asked to range off his frame. However, is a good wrap up tackler in space. Uses his long arms well to wrap and has a real snap through the hips into contact.
Is a powerful in the box run defender. Exhibits a burst when asked to close downhill, takes good angles inside and has a jarring pop on contact. Stays down, displays an explosive pop on contact at the point and brings his legs through the play.
At times will struggle to find the football on some miss-direction plays and lacks the kind of speed to make up for a slow recognition. Does a great job though extending his arms into contact when asked to keep himself clean and/or play off blocks. Has the power and length to stack on contact with the quickness to shed and wrap on the ball carrier.
Exhibits "plus" instincts inside and displays a sixth sense of when he needs to attack downhill and run through/take on a block for a negative play or shed and make the tackle. Is very natural making quick decisions on the fly and creating impact plays.
Showcases natural balance and some surprisingly change of direction skills for his size in zone. Isn't a great self-starter, but feels routes developing around him well, gets early jumps on the action and has closing speed to finish on the play.
Isn't a guy who can turn and run with a back down the field on wheel routes, but is natural in the flat, can cleanly re-direct out of his breaks in zone and reacts well to the football. Used a lot as a pass rusher off the edge in nickel situations. Looks natural sitting into his stance and has a good first step.
Loves to work the inside move, gain leverage and overpower on contact. Exhibits natural explosion as a bull rush guy and despite lacking ideal know how to shed, he can push the pocket.
Demonstrates just enough of a first step to reach the corner, is violent with his hands when working the club/swat to keep himself clean and will try to drop his pad level and dip under blockers, despite being a little tight.
Impression: Looks like a potential impact caliber 34-inside linebacker who has the skill set to win inside vs. the run and create pressure on third down as a savvy rush guy as well."
Hightower plays with a lot of strength and can hold his area or push the pocket. He's also shown he can get into the backfield to get after the quarterback. He's also shown his versatility. In 2009, Alabama used Hightower as the team's Jack linebacker to utilize his ability off the edge.
While Hightower may never be an elite pass rush threat because he's a little stiff in the hips, his first step is a good one. If Hightower can remain injury free, there's no reason he shouldn't be one of the top linebackers whenever he decides to enter the draft.
Games Viewed: (All 2010) Penn State, Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn, Michigan State
Bold Statement: Hightower is the 2011 version of Rey Maualuga – a powerful inside linebacker who has some trouble moving around.
• Is a powerful and imposing physical presence and has the strength to easily shed blockers. Getting through a pile isn't an issue for Hightower.
• Where is deficient is moving around sideline-to-sideline to make plays. He's much of a straight ahead player who struggles to open up his hips and get around the field.
• Although he's mostly played at the inside, Hightower has shown in the past that he can get after the passer. While he doesn't have an array of pass rush moves, he can rely on his power to beat blockers.
• Displays good but not elite or great instincts as an inside linebacker. The expectation should be that he'll be much improved in this area as a junior.
• Hightower shows his athleticism with his short-area quickness. For a big linebacker, it's rare to see the quick-twitch movements like Hightower possesses.
• Is lacking in pass coverage. That's partially due to not being used in that capacity, but Hightower may not have the balance and agility to run with tight ends and running backs.
• Took a medical redshirt in 2009 after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the fourth game of the year."
Physical player with good strength can stack and shed at the point of attack; good wrap-up tackler; lacks elite speed, but is a long strider who covers a lot of ground in space; somewhat tall and stiff for a LB though and doesn’t change direction all that abruptly;
Also not all that instinctive and doesn’t appear to have the natural feel for the game as some other top LB prospects; can blitz of the edge but has never been a big sacker with just one in his career to date; also has some injury concerns as he tore an ACL during his sophomore season in 2009 and was granted a redshirt year."
Is not afraid of contact and is very intense on the field and at practice, can make explosive hits... Diligent in the film room, knows where he is supposed to be and generally maintains responsibilities...
Does not get out of position often, is rarely fooled by misdirection plays... Good at taking on blockers and not getting pushed away from plays, maintains hand control when being blocked, which allows him to get a hand on the ball carrier with a blocker in his face...
Has experience blitzing off the edge, adequate at bull-rushing blockers into the backfield... Is good at using big frame to plug running lanes and take on blockers in the hole.
Negatives: Durability a major concern, tore ACL in 2009, which is a worrisome injury for a player with his bulk... Has not put up very impressive stats, even when healthy (two sacks, one forced fumble, no interceptions in almost two full seasons)... Does not possess elite speed, even for his size (projected high 4.7-40)...
Can be slow to diagnose plays, but makes up for that flaw by knowing his assignments and sticking with them...
Size and stiff hips a major drawback in pass coverage, decent in zone coverage, but not a man-to-man defender by any means... Does not go sideline to sideline very well, takes inconsistent pursuit angles that can take him out of plays... Not really a playmaker, and will most likely not make many game-changing plays in the NFL."
As a freshman, he was as highly-touted as fellow Crimson Tide linebacker Rolando McClain (who was taken eighth overall in the 2010 NFL Draft).
Midway through the 2009 campaign, however, Hightower tore the ACL in his left knee and got a medical redshirt.
Of course, the redshirt is likely inconsequential since the linebacker will almost certainly bolt for the next level after this year.
Hightower bounced back nicely in 2010, leading the team with 69 tackles and being named to the All-SEC Second Team by both the Associated Press and the coaches.
So far this season, on an absolutely dominant Alabama defense, Hightower leads the way with 48 total tackles (six for loss) in addition to one interception and six quarterback hurries.
Hightower has a great combination of size and speed at 6'4'', 260 pounds. He has been clocked as fast as 4.67 in the 40-yard dash, a number he should be able to improve upon at the combine and enhance his draft stock.
When he is at 100 percent, there is no denying that Hightower is a first-round talent. He can play rush linebacker in a 3-4 scheme in the NFL while also having the ability to play inside."
On the field the Tennessee native has impressive short-area quickness for a man of his size. Agile, he can change directions well; not many can sift through the garbage as well as he does. Even when Hightower’s quick feet aren’t enough to dance around blockers, he is more than strong enough to take them on at the point of attack. His powerful upper-body strength allows him to absolutely blow up fullbacks who try to block him one-on-one.
He is thick, with the wide frame to anchor when engaged and the strong hands to shed blockers and complete tackles. As a blitzer Hightower could be the rare inside linebacker who averages over five sacks a season. The primary negative from a scouting perspective remains the horrible injury he suffered during his sophomore year.
Yes, Hightower is on the fast track to recover and looked good during the spring, but that doesn’t change the fact that he tore his ACL, MCL. He is much more natural instinctively and athletically when moving forward as opposed to moving back. If he comes out and lights up the SEC with his aggressive brand of football and proves to have no lingering issues surrounding his knee, Hightower has the size, athleticism, and versatility to force his way into the first round of next year’s draft."