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2012 NFL Draft: Dont'a Hightower or Mark Barron - An Interesting Scenario

Dont'a Hightower #30 of the Alabama Crimson Tide tries to pump up the crowd against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 24, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Dont'a Hightower #30 of the Alabama Crimson Tide tries to pump up the crowd against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 24, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Last night, and's Tony Pauline had some interesting comments regarding the Seahawks' plans in the upcoming Draft. Said Pauline

"What will the Seattle Seahawks do? Separate sources told me today the team hopes to move out of the 12th slot and trade into the later portion of round one, where they will then draft linebacker Dont'a Hightower. If they can’t move the pick they are seriously considering Hightower’s teammate, safety Mark Barron, at that slot, and Kam Chancellor would then move to outside linebacker."

This comes as a big surprise (shock, dismay) to ... well, pretty much everyone. I personally hadn't even entertained the thought of the Seahawks drafting a safety in round one, much less the thought that they might move their budding pro-bowl safety to linebacker. Still - Pauline is generally is regarded as one of the more well-connected analysts out there. As Rob Staton pointed out back in January:

"Tony Pauline at Draft and is one of the best in the business at getting the inside edge on what teams are thinking in the draft. Last year he quoted sources claiming Tyron Smith would be a top-ten pick long before people were even including him in their mock drafts. The Dallas Cowboys drafted Smith ninth overall. When Pauline reports on what the teams are thinking, it's worth taking notice."

I should note that in that article, again, that was written back in January, Rob was defending his most recent mock draft in which he mocked Ryan Tannehill at #6 to the Redskins, against his better judgement and non-first round grade on the player. At that point, it was hardly a consensus that Tannehill would be a first round choice - more likely a 2nd rounder - and Pauline's report that Tannehill would go in the top-15 was fairly shocking then as the Texas A&M QB was coming off a recent foot injury and inconsistent season. Well, it's now more of a consensus thought that Tannehill won't make it out of the top 10 and possibly will go as high as #4 to Cleveland. My point is - it's just really hard to completely dismiss what Pauline is saying just because we might not like the information.

That said, the next obvious question is whether or not this is just a major smokescreen by the Seahawks front office and whether these two alleged sources are deliberately feeding Pauline misinformation. It's plausible either way. I'm sure there will be opinions both ways on this one, but my first thought is that this does seem like a newfangled scenario - not so much that they really like Mark Barron, but more so that they'd move Kam to linebacker after he emerged so well at the safety position and paired so brilliantly with Earl Thomas there.

With the Seahawks' ability to find linebacker talent in the mid rounds last year (K.J. Wright), a move for Chancellor would seem very hasty and reactive following the departure of David Hawthorne and possibly Leroy Hill (which, the Seahawks had/have a fair amount of control over). Moving Kam to OLB could have good results or, potentially, very poor results. As Thomas pointed out last night - even if the move is to a mostly-coverage linebacker (a la Will Herring's former role), the switch from safety to linebacker is pretty significant, and one that Kam Chancellor had been vocally against during the draft process and thereafter.

The most common argument I saw last night though was simply - "Why mess with a good thing?"

I can't say I disagree with that.

Though, I admit, I have to think that Chancellor would be a pretty decent weakside linebacker, in theory. HIs size, speed, tenacity, coverage skills, range, tackling - they are, really, what the Hawks want at that position. Still, it's hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of moving Kam to linebacker and going with Mark Barron at strong safety - for a number of reasons. Principally, I really like having Chancellor at safety. Secondly, I don't know a ton about Barron, as I've pretty much completely ignored him, thinking he'd go in the first round to a team with a need at that position. From what I understand though, he's a very good player with size and length, leadership ability, and a lot of the things the Seahawks seem to like. Per Russ Lande:

"Barron is a strong and thickly built player with the long arms NFL teams love in a safety. (Vital stats: 6-1, 213 pounds, 4.56 40) He is an outstanding leader who takes command of the defense and makes sure the secondary is lined up correctly. Barron is an aggressive run support player who reads and reacts fast, avoids blockers well on the move and does a good job of wrapping up and making hard, violent tackles when he stays under control. He is productive playing the pass in front of him because he reads the quarterback so well that he can plant, drive and close quickly on the ball. He shows excellent patience in deep coverage and does not get fooled by misdirection plays, trick plays or play-action fakes.

Barron has consistently shown the hips, agility and speed to cover tight ends in man coverage on short and intermediate routes. His ball skills show up in his ability to consistently break up passes and secure interceptions. He has all the physical traits and intangibles to be an excellent special teams player, which also raises his draft value."

For now, the only thing we can really do is consider the idea and do a little research on the players involved. Barron certainly wouldn't be a bad addition to an already good defense, and theoretically wouldn't rob Kam Chancellor of snaps. With ET, Kam, and Mark Barron on the field at the same time, the Hawks could do some interesting things.

That's the word I keep coming back to - interesting -, as the title suggests, but it still weirds me out. I'm sure some, - or a lot, probably the vast majority - of people will be against this and I'm not advocating for it, just considering what it would look like. I thought about not even broaching the topic but now that it's hit PFT everyone will be talking about it, so I figured I'd bring it up.

Regardless, the other piece of the information presented - the idea that the Hawks would like to trade back in round one to take Dont'a Hightower - is actually fairly plausible, if they could swing a deal. The fit is there, and would probably come as welcome and exciting news to some of yo (Nate, Charlie). Hightower is rising in some people's minds - this is a conversation we've been having here for a little while - as a legitimate first round option for the Seahawks and is very often overlooked as people concentrate on his talented teammate in Courtney Upshaw.

Per's profile on Hightower, Alabama coach Nick Saban offered this analysis on his former player:

"Inside linebacker, nickel backer, defensive end and odd rusher: He does all those things very well, he is very smart and he has leadership qualities."

NFLDraftScout continues...

"As a freshman, Hightower was labeled "A freak who can play any position," by teammate Rolando McClain (No. 8 overall in 2010, Raiders). He played up to the hype until he blew out his left knee in 2009 and required reconstructive surgery on his ACL, MCL and meniscus. It wasn't really until last season that he was playing back to top form, which is comparable to a larger and more athletic Brandon Spikes (New England, second-round pick out of Florida, 2010). Hightower combines dutiful film work and great instinct to help get him quickly into position for plays, and then his substantial physical abilities take over. He is a natural leader and weight-room fanatic."

Hightower is sort of similar to Upshaw in that he's shown the ability to do a little of everything. He's good in zone coverage, can blitz, is strong against the run, and at 6'2, 265, has the size to play defensive end in spots.

Per Dan Kadar, "in this year's draft, there is no better run-stopping linebacker between the tackle than Hightower. He's stout at the point of attacks and a great tackler. Wraps his arms, lowers his shoulder and drives through the ballcarrier. Has the foot quickness to break down in space and take down speedy running backs. NFL-ready strength in run defense."

I don't know if I should ever underestimate how important this run-defense factor is for this front office, especially Pete Carroll.

Kadar also points out that Hightower remained on the field on passing downs and held up well in zone coverage with fast-twitch short-area quickness, something I've seen several scouting reports point out. On the other hand, I've seen some others saying he's not fluid enough or fast enough to be a sideline to sideline type of guy that can run with tight ends and running backs consistently in man coverage.

The other thing to consider too is that over the last two seasons, Hightower has been coming back from a devastating knee injury (ACL, MCL and meniscus) and typically these injuries take up to two years before full strength and speed is recovered. That's... about nowish. He was projected to run in the 4.9's in the 40 at the Combine but surprised some people by running sub 4.7 (4.68). So, it's plausible to think that he could improve in that role.

In some ways - Hightower might make more sense for the Seahawks in round one than his teammate Courtney Upshaw because of his more apparent fit as an every down guy. Now, I'm not saying he's a better player or better prospect, but from a value standpoint (picking up picks too) I'm not ruling out the idea.

Todd McShay recently offered his analysis on Hightower:

"I think he's a top 20 player in this draft. I know he had the knee injury, and he doesn't have elite speed, but he's 265 pounds, somewhere in that range, great versus the inside run. Pass rusher that can get off the edge, which was an addition to his game this past year. It's not just something that he did that was cute to help out for Alabama this year. He's got great hands, quick, can swim, can get off the line.

"There are times he looks more explosive than [Courtney] Upshaw coming off the edge. So I think it's legitimately something he can do at the next level."

At this point I'd assume the Hightower pick scenario would be used as a replacement for David Hawthorne at middle linebacker and if they can move down, add some picks, and are satisfied with his man-coverage abilities, the Seahawks would be getting a very good run defender with some zone coverage abilities and versatility to kick outside and rush the passer in certain situations.

His versatility and physicality likely would appeal to this front office, and by all accounts, Hightower was the vocal leader of the Alabama defense the last couple seasons. He is, on paper, the kind of player that can start his rookie season and play three downs, something the Seahawks will likely need at this point with Hawthorne's departure.

Big thanks to DraftBreakdown for the excellent scouting videos they put together, JMPasq, MARI0clp, Aaron Aloysius, and the whole DraftBreakdown crew.

Now, some tape on Mark Barron: