ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has the Steelers taking Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower in the first round of his most recent mock draft.
Kiper, during a conference call Thursday afternoon, said the 6-2 ½, 265-pound Hightower has answered any questions about the torn ACL he suffered his sophomore season at Alabama.
“He’s getting back to the form he showed early on,” Kiper said. “How many 265-pound linebackers can run and get the job done like he can? There’s a lot of roles he could play but in Pittsburgh he would be a key addition.”
The Steelers conducted a formal interview with Hightower at the NFL Combine late last month. Their need for a linebacker such as Hightower has only increased following the release of James Farrior.
Hightower ran a 4.68 in the 40 at the Combine, which won’t dazzle teams but should convince them that his speed won’t be an issue at the next level. I get the sense that the Steelers are trying to determine if Hightower is truly a first-round prospect and that they want to be certain their evaluation of him isn’t skewed by two factors.
They are: The help the Steelers need at inside linebacker and the reality that if they don’t take one early they might not find a long-term replacement for Farrior.
General manager Kevin Colbert attended the first of two Alabama Pro Days Wednesday in Tuscaloosa. The Steelers can get another look at Hightower at the end of the month when Alabama stages a second workout for draft prospects.
Two other items of note from Kiper’s conference call:
— Kiper said comparisons between Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe and Ravens Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata are premature if not off base.
But Kiper is of the belief that Poe, who blew away teams at the Combine with his blend of size, strength and speed, will be gone well before the Steelers make their first-round pick (No. 24 overall).
“He’s not as intense, not as physical as some of the other defensive tackles for a player his size,” Kiper said of Poe. “But he moves so well and had such a great workout. I think he could go in the top 15.
“I don’t think he’s going to be Haloti Ngata. I think that’s a little bit of a stretch to say he’s going to be that type of player but certainly there’s going to be an opportunity for him to go pretty high in the first round.”
— Kiper apparently doesn’t share Devon Still’s belief that the Penn State product is the best defensive tackle in the draft.
Kiper has Still, who made his bold claim at the Combine, slipping into the second round of the draft.
Kiper said Still’s injury history and the fact that he was a “one-year wonder” at Penn State are potential red flags. Still, he added, hasn’t “wowed” teams during the pre-draft process though Kiper called him a “a big kid with rare physical ability.”
“I thought about Pittsburgh for him,” Kiper said of Still and the first round of his latest mock draft. “Denver could use him but I ultimately pushed him into the second round.”
— Scott Brown