A two-time team captain, Hightower recorded 85 tackles, 11 for losses, four sacks and one interception last season.
He's known for his pass-rushing skills, his ability to stonewall the running game and for his physical, nasty style of play. "Hightower is a great player, there is no doubt about it," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "He is an explosive guy. We've seen him play live many times, obviously with the Alabama connections. We are going to draft the best player that is available. If that's an inside linebacker, and we think that guy can be a really good player for us, we're going to take him."
Should Hightower somehow get past the Pittsburgh Steelers' 24th overall pick where he could be an ideal replacement for James Farrior, the Ravens could emerge as a player for his services. Unless the Steelers were to draft a sliding Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe to groom behind Casey Hampton, Hightower is a player they've specifically targeted.
To land Hightower, the Ravens would probably have to leapfrog the Steelers through a trade with the Detroit Lions at No. 23 overall. Moving up six spots from the 29th overall pick would likely cost the Ravens a third-round draft pick in addition to their current first-round selection. The Steelers brought in Hightower for a visit and met with him at the NFL scouting combine. The Ravens also spoke with Hightower at the combine.
Hightower grew up idolizing Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis and could initially fit in at other defensive positions, including defensive end and outside linebacker before eventually succeeding the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Lewis celebrates his 37th birthday on May 15.
"That'd be great," Hightower said of potentially joining the Ravens. "Whoever will have me I'm looking forward to it. Guys you watched growing up and you want to be like this guy, and actually being on the field with those guys would be a dream come true."
Among the other teams enamored of Hightower: the San Diego Chargers, Chicago Bears, Tennessee Titans, New England Patriots and the New York Giants.
There's a school of thought in NFL circles that Hightower is an ascending player who could go even earlier than anticipated.
"To be honest, the guy I'm most surprised with is Dont'a Hightower," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. "I think he's a top 20 player in this draft. I know he had the knee injury, and he doesn't have elite speed, but he's 265 pounds, great versus the inside run. Pass rusher that can get off the edge, which was an addition to his game this past year. It's not just something that he did that was cute to help out for Alabama this year. He's got great hands, quick, can swim, can get off the line.
"There are times he looks more explosive than [Alabama defensive end Courtney]Upshaw coming off the edge. So I think it's legitimately something he can do at the next level. Pittsburgh Steelers to me would be a perfect fit for him if he lasts that long."
Hightower overcame a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered during his sophomore year at Alabama. He also tore his medial collateral ligament and meniscus.
He finished his career with 234 tackles, 21 for losses and five sacks. He's regarded as a good enough athlete with 4.68 speed in the 40-yard dash, a 33-inch vertical leap and a 9-9 broad jump. Known for his dedication to film study, Hightower operated as the quarterback of the Alabama defense.
"I think that he's really done it all here," Alabama coach Nick Saban told reporters at the Crimson Tide Pro Day. "He's got a lot of diversity as a player because he's played a lot of different positions. I think he's going to offer the same thing at the next level: inside backer, nickel backer, defensive end, odd rusher. "There's not very many other things that you can do, and I think he does all those things very well. He's very smart and has leadership qualities. I think people are starting to recognize that the more they're around him." The Ravens are interested in bolstering the linebacker position in general. They also brought in Utah State inside linebacker Bobby Wagner and Cal inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks for visits to team headquarters and worked out North Carolina linebacker Zach Brown. All three are graded as potential second-round picks.?
Wagner is a four-year starter, two-time captain and a three-time All-Western Athletic Conference selection.
He was voted the Most Outstanding Player on the North squad during the Senior Bowl with seven tackles, one for a loss and an interception and is graded as a solid second-round draft prospect. The 6-foot, 241-pounder made an excellent recovery from a bout with pneumonia that required hospitalization and prevented him from participating in the NFL scouting combine. Wagner ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 and 4.47 seconds at his campus Pro Day workout where he also had a 39 1/2 inch vertical leap and an 11-foot broad jump.
He bench pressed 25 pounds 24 times, also registering a 7.09 in the three-cone drill and an 11.72 in the 60-yard shuttle.
A Ravens linebackers coach attended the workout. Wagner recorded a career-high 147 tackles as a senior with four sacks and two interceptions. Wagner finished his career with 446 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks, 29 1/2 tackles for losses, three fumble recoveries and four interceptions. Kendricks is a 5-foot-11, 240-pound Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds at the NFL scouting combine. He also bench pressed 225 pounds 24 times, registered a 39 1/2 inch vertical leap, a 10-7 broad jump and a 4.19 in the 20-yard shuttle. He has drawn second-round grades from draft analysts.
Kendricks recorded 106 tackles, 14 1/2 for losses, one sack, a forced fumble, an interception returned for a touchdown and two fumble recoveries.
For his career, the all-conference linebacker had 258 tackles, 36 1/2 for losses, 13 1/2 sacks, seven fumble recoveries, four interceptions, five pass deflections and a blocked punt.
A former Wilde Lake standout, Brown has worked out for the Patriots and visited the Chicago Bears, Titans, Lions and the New York Jets. An All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, Brown is one of the most athletic players in the draft. The 6-foot-1, 244-pounder ran the 40-yard in 4.50 seconds at the NFL scouting combine and improved that time to 4.48 seconds at his campus Pro Day workout.
Brown set a school indoor track record with a 6.72 in the 60 meters three years ago Brown was a Butkus Award semifinalist last season when he led the Tar Heels with 105 tackles, 13 1/2 for losses, 5 1/2 sacks, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and four pass deflections. Over the years, the Ravens have found starting inside linebackers everywhere from Lewis in the first round, Jamie Sharper in the second round, Ed Hartwell in the fourth round and undrafted free agents Bart Scott and Jameel McClain.
"I think there are some very good inside linebackers in every round," DeCosta said. "You've got guys that are going to go very high in the draft, a guy like Luke Kuechly from Boston College. Then, there are guys in the seventh round that we covet that we think can come in and be demons on special teams immediately and eventually have a chance to start.
"They come in all different shapes and sizes. We're excited about the class this year, but it's going to be weighed against the field at other positions and we'll pick the best player.
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