Dont'a Hightower - Underrated Player of the Week
It's Monday so it's my day too write about a player who I feel is over/underrated. Last week it was Wes Welker. This week it's Dont'a Hightower, linebacker for the New England Patriots.
Some players are lucky enough that they play a position glorified in the NFL. Wide receivers make these great catches , running backs get star accolades, and even mediocre Quarterbacks get huge media followings (Cutler/ Romo etc) but on the other end of the spectrum there are the players like Dont'a Hightower.
Hightower plays the hardly recognized position of strong side linebacker. Unlike the star players in the NFL you have to look at the player playing alongside to see his impact. Last season, Jerod Mayo playing alongside Hightower had 147 tackles and was an elite tackle machine. This season it has been Brandon Spikes who has been fortunate enough to play next to Hightower. Spikes has been seen as an elite Linebacker all over New England largely in part to how Hightower helps the team.
What many people don't realize is that Hightower is essentially the Vince Wilfork of the line backing core. When a team runs the ball or throws a short pass it is Hightower's job to engage one of the lead blockers, often times a FB, TE , and Guards. This season with Wilfork out he has been met by Guards down field far too often. Nonetheless when Hightower meets the lead block his job is to hold that block, make the runner redirect , and leave the other Patriot players free from blockers to make plays. His great work doing this was shown all throughout the Bills game, most notably Hightower showed off his skills on a halfback screen to CJ spiller.
On the play Spiller was given the ball a few yards behind the line of scrimmage with 3 blockers down field. The Patriots were in tough position with only Hightower close to Spiller on the play. Hightower engaged the blocker down field, held his position and caused the always crafty Spiller to cut back away from the sideline and eventually was speared in the knee by Hightower. With the three blockers down field and only Hightower ready for the screen the Patriots looked in bad shape. But Hightower was able to single handedly blow up. A screen play that would have other times gone for huge yardage.
The reason Hightower is underrated? Because that only goes in the stat book as 1 tackle. The average onlooker doesn't see that whole play.Without Hightower's ability to contain the strong side on run plays the Patriots linebackers would have no chance to work downhill and make plays.