Once again, the Patriots traded up in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, sending the 31st and 26th pick to the Denver Broncos for the 25th overall pick. And once again, the Patriots made a move to pick up a major upgrade for the front seven, selecting Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower.
Hightower, at 6'3" and 265 lbs, can play a variety of roles for the Patriots. He's a big, physical defender who can take on blockers at the point of attack and win one on one battles. He's an explosive hitter, great tackler, and has top-notch instincts. For the Patriots, he can likely play SILB in the 3-4, SLB in the 4-3, DE in sub-packages, and 3-4 LOLB. He's a bit similar to Brandon Spikes, but has more athleticism and can get to the quarterback a little bit better. Hightower is also an excellent team leader and two-time team captain. No doubt Nick Saban gave Bill Belichick the seal of approval with this selection.
With the Hightower and Chandler Jones selections, the Patriots have immediately revolutionized their front seven. These are two players that are real difference makers, and will instantly make the Patriots defense that much better. We'll have much more analysis later.
Greg's Grade: A-