"Dont’a Hightower, linebackerPotential fits: Colts, Redskins, Raiders.Well, we discussed Berry donning the Silver and Black above. That might not merely be speculation, but rampant speculation. However, Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie has stated that inside linebacker is “a hole that we have to fill.” Oakland won’t be sleepless letting go of ex-Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith. Enter Hightower, who would join a so-so defense with more raw talent than production (at this point, anyway).Meanwhile, the Colts must rebuild the defense straight up the middle, and have the dollars to do so.Perhaps the most interesting match, though, would be the Redskins, who have lacked the type of defensive leadership in the ILB spot Hightower could bring since London Fletcher hung ’em up. The ‘Skins are in their best cap shape in years, yet have several important free agents in their own driveway to consider first: Cousins, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon …Most importantly: The Colts, Redskins and Raiders all gave up at least 4.5 yards per carry in 2016."
While pretty much any star defensive player with a pulse could be of interest to Indianapolis at this time, Hightower is an intriguing free agent candidate for the Colts.
In fact, Horseshoe Heroes recently listed him in our ‘Top 7 Free Agents for the Colts to Strongly Consider‘.
Originally a 2012 first round pick of the New England Patriots, Hightower has developed into one of the league’s best young inside linebackers.
He’s coming off a standout season in which he recorded 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble in 13 starts for New England.
As a result of his exceptional play, Hightower helped the Patriots become Super Bowl LI Champions, while being named a 2nd-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowler for the first time in his career respectively.
Currently, the 6’3″, 265 pound linebacker is ranked as Pro Football Focus 11th best free agent in their ‘Top 50 NFL Free Agents of 2017‘:
"11. Dont’a Hightower, LB, New England PatriotsDont’a Hightower is an impact player, but has a very specific skill-set that the Patriots have been able to utilize extremely well. He has good grades in every area of the game PFF measures in three straight seasons, and has been used heavily by the Patriots as a pass-rusher on the blitz—typically up the middle to augment their relatively average pass rush up front. Over the past three seasons, Hightower has recorded 18 total sacks and has averaged 32 total QB pressures per season, as well as being a solid run defender. The less space he has to play in, the better, but Hightower can be an impact linebacker for most teams."
Specifically, Pro Football Focus (subscription) rated Hightower as their 12th best graded inside linebacker with a +85.7 overall grade this past season–including a +76.4 grade as a pass rusher (which was second best at the position).
One cause for concern regarding Hightower though is that he has missed 11 games over the past three seasons, so there’s some durability questions.
Of course, it’s no secret that the Colts could clearly use an impact player at inside linebacker, as the team struggled replacing departed starter Jerrell Freeman this past season and just released aging veteran starter D’Qwell Jackson earlier this offseason.
With just young holdovers such as Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison as the only realistic in-house options, it makes sense that the Colts could potentially kick the tires on an elite talent such as Hightower.
While Hightower is still a strong candidate to ultimately receive the Patriots franchise tag, it can’t be completely ruled out that the reigning Super Bowl Champions balk at his price tag–having already traded both Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins in the past year because of lofty contract demands respectively.
The Colts could clearly use an upgrade at inside linebacker, and the 26 year old Hightower could definitely provide it. It’s just a matter of at what cost if he actually hits the open market.
It’s also worth noting that the Colts were also mentioned as potential fits for New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett, as well as Kansas City Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe–with the latter seeming much more likely all things considered.