New England Patriots: Defensive Player Spotlight – LB Dont’a Hightower
When the 2016 season ended, all hell broke loose for the New England Patriots as one of their staples on defense appeared to be walking away. After a Super Bowl victory and a soon to be pay day, linebacker Dont’a Hightower seemed to be linked to almost every team in the league. There was a shortage of free agent linebackers on the market that could come in and make an immediate impact on their new team. Ultimately, Hightower chose to stay home in New England in hopes of making another championship run.
While he is not the most ﬂashy player on the ﬁeld, teams went after what they thought would lead to success. At 27, he is in the prime of his career and still has plenty of good football left. Signing a four-year deal with the Pats will take him into his 30s but the New England Patriots may not be his last stop.
With a division booming with all-star level talent, each team in the AFC East has to have dominant run stoppers. Dont’a Hightower is that player for New England. Rarely does he miss tackles and can ﬁll gaps with the best of them. He will need to face running backs like Miami’s Jay Ajayi, Buﬀalo’s LeSean McCoy, or even new Raider Marshawn Lynch. The Pats face no shortage of running teams in 2017 so bringing Hightower back at an aﬀordable price should have been priority number one. Luckily for them, it is hard to walk away from a team that looks destined to repeat.
Hightower, however, is not without a downside. His strength may be his run stopping ability. However, he is suspect in the passing game. Pass happy teams are just as much a part of their schedule as there are running teams. Teams will have to push their tight ends to challenge him on a consistent basis and wear him down. If they want to beat the Patriots, it will have to be in the fourth quarter. Opponents will have to hope Hightower is out of wind late in the game in order to have the perfect balance of moving the chains as well as eating up the game clock. If their oﬀense is not on him all game, his run stopping ability could make a fourth quarter comeback one-dimensional. Against a team like New England, that is not a good side to be on. Teams need to play his side early and often.
After the long free agent period for Dont’a Hightower, the best place for him was to remain with the New England Patriots. His game might not be at the level as the top players in the league, but playing for Belichick always makes it seem that way. He ﬁts well into their system and does exactly what they ask of him, nothing more and nothing less. Week in and week out, he will be the man they need to make plays and step up big. As with any other player, the Patriots have called upon he will play his role. If the 2017 oﬀseason was any indication of what the Patriots have in store, there just might be another ring on the linebacker’s ﬁnger.
Editor’s Note: This article can also be seen in our upcoming NFL Preview Edition.