Dont’a Hightower’s injury reportedly is worse than originally anticipated. Much, much worse.
NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport and The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin both reported Hightower tore his pectoral muscle in the New England Patriots’ Week 7 win over the Atlanta Falcons. He will miss the remainder of the season.
Losing Hightower, a Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro last season, is a massive blow to the Patriots’ defense. The 27-year-old easily is New England’s best all-around linebacker and also one of its most talented edge players — the position he played at the start of this season before moving back to his traditional spot in the middle.
Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy now likely will serve as the starting linebackers in the Patriots’ base defense. Roberts left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury but practiced Wednesday, albeit in a limited capacity.
Other players who could see increased snaps in Hightower’s absence include David Harris, Cassius Marsh, Adam Butler, Marquis Flowers, Trevor Reilly and Jordan Richards. The Patriots also can bring linebacker Shea McClellin off injured reserve next week, which would help bolster the depth chart, and could look to bring in reinforcements ahead of next Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline.
Thursday’s news ends a brief and injury-plagued 2017 season for Hightower, who also missed two games last month with a knee injury. He played in five games, tallying 14 tackles and two sacks after re-signing with New England on a four-year, $35 million contract this past offseason.
Durability has been the main question mark throughout Hightower’s otherwise productive Patriots career. He missed four games in 2014, four more in 2015 and three in 2016. At this season’s end, he will have missed 22 regular-season games over those four campaigns.
Hightower is the second Patriots star to suffer a season-ending injury this season after wide receiver Julian Edelman went down with a torn ACL in the preseason. Cornerback Cyrus Jones and rookie defensive end Derek Rivers also were lost for the year with torn ACLs, and wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell and defensive tackle Vincent Valentine have yet to practice since landing on IR last month.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images