I couldn’t decide between Hightower and the next guy on this list, so we are going to have a tie for first place. Based purely on comparing last year’s tape to this year’s tape, I think Hightower has made the most improvements not only on this defense, but on this team. We already knew he was good in the run game, but he has taken it to a whole different level this year. He is exploding to the ball-carrier, shedding blocks left and right, and leading the charge for this third ranked unit.
He also has improved his pass defense, which was just awful in 2013. Hightower is a bigger guy, so it is much harder for him to keep up with the quick running backs and tight ends. But he has obviously worked very hard this offseason to get into good shape, and his knowledge of the game is quickly expanding, so he knows where to be at the right time.
And last but not least, we have to touch on his pass rushing. Coming out of college, one of the things scouts loved about Hightower’s game, was his versatility. Not only could he play inside linebacker, but he could be very effective as an edge-rusher, which he did a lot of in college. The Pats finally have allowed him to do that this year, and the results have been great. I look forward to Hightower continuing to improve as the season goes on, and possibly snag a spot in the Pro-Bowl.