The 2013 season ended in defeat for the New England Patriots, and now the team will be evaluating their roster as the draft and free agency are quickly approaching. Over the course of the next few weeks, PatsPulpit will take a look at each key player and review their performance, as well as their role on the Patriots moving forward.
Continuing the series, let's take a look at linebacker Dont'a Hightower.
Dont'a Hightower, LB
Dont'a Hightower was criticized by some during the midway point of the season because of his apparent lack of development from his rookie season. Many of the same problems still plagued him, as he struggled in pass coverage, and he wasn't making the impact in the running game that many expected him to after his exceptional collegiate career at Alabama.
After Jerod Mayo was placed on injured reserve, Hightower expectedly took on an increased role in the Patriots' defense. On some occasions, he wore the "green dot" radio communication helmet, taking Mayo's role as the signal caller, but things didn't always go smoothly.
I'll admit, I was worried that Hightower might've been entering bust territory, especially because of his lack of ability to play in pass coverage.
But then Hightower turned it on the last few weeks of the season and the playoffs. He elevated his play, most notably in the run game, looking the part of a full-time starter.
And then Brandon Spikes was played on injured reserve before the AFC Divisional playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts, which freed Hightower to have the best game of his young NFL career. He had eight tackles and one interception, as the Colts high-powered offense was contained.
Hightower's increase in production seemed to be correlated with the rise in snaps for Jamie Collins towards the end of the season. Perhaps their games compliment each other well, but it's far too small of a sampling size to dive into the statistics.
The bottom line is, after a rocky start to the year, Hightower turned it around, but he still doesn't deserve more than a C+ or B-, in my opinion.
I'd like to see Dont'a Hightower lose some weight this offseason, since he weighed in at 270 last year. That's too heavy for a linebacker, especially in today's NFL, where virtually every team uses a spread offense at one point or another.