Patriots head coach Bill Belichick loves to zig while the draft analysts zag, so it wouldn’t be completely unpredictable if he jumped on Hightower given he survived until the end of the first round.
Hightower is the focus of the sixth installment of a 26-day series that will highlight draft prospects who could land with the Patriots at the end of April. Maybe the prospect fits perfectly in the range of their 27th and 31st picks. Maybe he’s intriguing enough for them to make a rare move up the board. Or maybe it’s a player who could be available in the mid-30s, causing the Patriots to, gasp, trade down.
The 6-foot-2, 265-pounder had 81 tackles, three sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, one interception, one blocked field goal, three passes defensed and eight quarterback pressures in 2011.
Why the Patriots Would Want Him
Hightower is all over the ball, plays with a mean streak and has the leadership capabilities to take over a defense. He’s also shown enough versatility to move to various positions in sub packages for Nick Saban‘s defense, which would definitely catch Belichick’s eye.
Plus, the Patriots’ defense struggled mightily last season while Jerod Mayo recovered on the fly from his knee injury and Brandon Spikes missed seven games with his own knee ailment. There’s no harm in adding that type of quality depth, especially when the player comes from a system as highly respected by Belichick as Saban’s.
Why the Patriots Might Stay Away
While Hightower would be a strong addition, again, he doesn’t project to fit an immediate need. Hightower is a natural inside linebacker, and if he’s too similar of a player to Spikes or Mayo, it would make more sense to address another need.
Potential Impact in 2012
Hightower wouldn’t be anything more than a role player with the Patriots unless Mayo or Spikes suffered an injury. The incumbent starters are both excellent players and wouldn’t face any risk of losing their jobs. The wild card would be Belichick’s projection for Hightower. If he can play outside in the 3-4, or if Belichick envisions a way to use all three players in a 4-3 base, Hightower could earn starting reps.
Likelihood Hightower Is Available at No. 27
Hightower is most often projected as a late first-rounder, but the Chiefs (No. 11), Seahawks (No. 12), Cardinals (No. 13) or Jets (No. 16) could make a play earlier than expected. Hightower would also be a tremendous fit for the Steelers (No. 24). If the Patriots hope to let Hightower fall to their second pick, they’ll have to be wary of the Ravens at No. 29.
Each day in April, NESN.com will spotlight a player the Patriots could take with one of their first-round picks.
Thursday: Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus
Saturday: Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still