New England Patriots Kick-Off in 54 Days: Profiling No. 54 Dont’a Hightower
Opening day countdowns are great. So are player profiles. Here at Musket Fire, we decided to combine them and create a Week 1 countdown-oriented, jersey number-dictated player profile series. Yesterday we looked at No. 55 Jonathan Freeny, and a few days before that it was No. 58 Darius Fleming. Because today marks 54 days until the New England Patriots open 2015, we are profiling No. 54, linebacker Dont’a Hightower.
One of the more accomplished football players of the decade with two BCS national championships and a Super Bowl win under his belt, Hightower was the 25th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. You may remember that Hightower began his pro career with a bang, returning a fumble forced by fellow rookie Chandler Jones for a touchdown in the 2012 season opener against the Titans.
Through three seasons with the Patriots, Hightower has amassed 169 tackles and 11 sacks. He’s started 39 of the 42 regular season games he’s appeared in, as well as all seven of the postseason affairs the Patriots have been involved in during that span.
Wearing Tedy Bruschi’s old number and assuming the leadership responsibilities of the oft-injured Jerod Mayo in the past few years has skyrocketed Hightower’s value. Oh, and leading the defense through the 2014 playoffs while playing with a broken shoulder (it was broken when he saved the season by tackling Marshawn Lynch on the goal line) has also endeared Hightower to Patriots fans.
Pro Football Focus highlighted Hightower’s ascension by placing him next to Luke Kuechly as a starting inside linebacker on their 2014 All-Pro team. Not only did PFF give Hightower the second-highest grade for inside linebackers, but they also named him the 23rd-best player in the entire league.
The Patriots have realized that Hightower is truly a gem. In April, they picked up the Alabama product’s fifth-year option. Patriots fans should be exuberant about their starting linebacking trio of Hightower, Mayo and Jamie Collins entering 2015, and perhaps Hightower is the most exciting player on the entire defense.
For the latest on Hightower’s status for Week 1, see what Cyrus Geller had to say earlier this week.
In case you missed them, here are the profiles for No. 59 Chris White, No. 60 David Andrews, No. 61 Marcus Cannon, No. 62 Ryan Wendell, No. 63 Tre’ Jackson, No. 64 Chris Barker, No. 65 Jordan Devey, No. 66 Bryan Stork, No. 67 Josh Kline, No. 68 Caylin Hauptmann, No. 69 Shaq Mason, No. 71 Cameron Fleming and No. 72 Joe Vellano.