NFL’s Most Underrated: Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower


Coming back from a torn labrum, New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower is making his way back from what turned out to be one of the best seasons from an inside linebacker in the NFL last season.

Culminating with a Super Bowl victory, Hightower’s emergence in 2014 wasn’t unexpected for the former first round pick, but it was something most people probably didn’t see coming.

Hightower went from being a really solid run thumping, pass rushing linebacker to being a very good all-around linebacker, especially in coverage last season. He finished the year with a career high +27.1 grade according to Pro Football Focus, best on the Patriots.

Not only did he excel in Pro Football Focus grade, but as I mentioned, Hightower actually played pretty much one-armed in the Super Bowl and made some big plays in that game to help New England win its fourth title.

At 6-3, 265 pounds, Hightower really is built more like a defensive end than an inside linebacker, and he often plays like it. Hightower is one of the best pass rushing linebackers in the NFL, and he takes that ability back to his days as a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide.

In his junior season at Alabama under Nick Saban, Hightower racked up 11 tackles for loss and 4 sacks, but that was merely a glimpse of what he’d be able to do in the NFL. Last season for the Patriots, Hightower finished with 6 sacks, 17 QB hurries, and 43 stops last season. According to Pro Football Focus, he finished with 8 sacks and 9 QB hits.

In addition to being one of the best run defending inside linebackers in the NFL, Hightower has proven he can now play in coverage, posting his career-best +8.9 grade in pass coverage. With his size and range to make plays against the run and pass, Hightower is not only one of the most underrated players in the NFL, but he’s also one of the most versatile.

Not many players at nearly 270 pounds are able to run around like he can, and not many guys have the instincts to read the run as well as the pass and get after the quarterback from the inside linebacker spot. Hightower truly is a rare breed of player, a phenomenal value for the Patriots where they got him (25th overall in the 2012 draft), and a player they can build their defense around.

Hopefully he’s back on the field healthy sooner rather than later.

Next: NFLs Most Underrated: Kawann Short, DL, Panthers