Dont’a Hightower is a Pro Bowl linebacker who has played a big role in the Patriots’ success in recent years, but the 28-year-old has struggled so far this season and former NFL executive Michael Lombardi believes New England would be best served limiting his role moving forward.

“I think what New England needs to do is stop playing Hightower at linebacker and just make him a defensive end because when he’s at linebacker they are really slow,” Lombardi said this week on The Ringer’s GM Street podcast. “They need to play him down at defensive end. Just make him a nickel rusher. Put his hand in the dirt and make him a nickel rusher because that is the only thing they are going to be able to get out of him. They are not going to be able to get space plays and they have to get faster guys on the field on defense.”

Lombardi, who worked alongside Bill Belichick in New England and with the Cleveland Browns, was very critical of several Patriots players, even suggesting All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski has lost some quickness. His analysis of Hightower sure is interesting, though, especially since the 2012 first-round pick really hasn’t looked the same in 2018.

Hightower, who signed a four-year, $35.5 million contract last March, was limited to just five games in 2017 due to season-ending surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. Perhaps he’ll return to form this season after shaking off some rust, but New England’s defense has been stuck in the mud thus far, and Hightower’s lackluster play is a major reason why.

Thumbnail photo via Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports Images