Without many questions about their offense, the Patriots’ defense will be under the magnifying glass as they make their run to New Orleans. One player who will be key to that success is LB Dont’a Hightower, who, like the rest of the stop unit, has improved as the season has gone along.
We heard around draft time that Hightower’s versatility was a big reason why Bill Belichick traded up for the former Alabama ‘backer, and Hightower has shown that, moving around the LB corps and seeing snaps in the nickel. When Rob Ninkovich went down in the season finale with a hip injury, Hightower and Trevor Scott helped fill his shoes in different ways. In fact, Hightower was on the field for 52-of-59 defensive snaps, second-most among front-seven players in that game.
An impressive rookie class of linebackers in the league has overshadowed Hightower, but he has shown his playmaking abilities and good instincts this season with four sacks, 10 tackles for loss (team-high), and two fumble recoveries. Hightower did miss two games with a hamstring injury but should be fully healthy for the divisional round. With Brandon Spikes focused on stopping the run, Hightower can move around and make impact plays.