1. Scheme diversity – Game planning and creating mismatches are at the heart of modern day defensive football. Watch the link I've provided at the bottom of the Mississippi State game. Hightower lines up as a pass rushing DE much more than you would expect. He is also very good in coverage. He stays on the field all 4 downs (he blocked a kick). Nick Saban said, "Inside linebacker, nickel backer, defensive end and odd rusher," recited Saban. "He does all those things very well, he is very smart and he has leadership qualities." As a freshman, Hightower was labeled "a freak who can play any position" by teammate Rolando McClain (No. 8 overall in 2010, Raiders and a fan favorite for many Chief fans going into that draft). Luke Kuechly on the other hand doesn't have this type of diversity. NFL.com states when addressing Kuechly's weaknesses … "He'll be strictly a tackling, sideline-to-sideline linebacker."
2. Pass Rush – Even with Tamba Hali and the emergence of Justin Houston, only 2 teams had less sacks than the Kansas City Chiefs. In recent years there have been middle linebackers who were thought to have the ability to get to the QB but couldn't do it. This is one of the reasons that ILB gets devalued. McClain was a big disappointment his rookie year with half a sack. A couple years before there was Aaron Curry (who disappointed in every way) who couldn't get to the QB even though the scouts thought he could. The point is athletic ability doesn't necessarily translate to sacks. It is a special skill. For all the tackles that Luke Kuechly made last year, he didn't have a single sack. Again, NFL.com lists under Kuechly's weaknesses that, "He didn't get up into the line of scrimmage to make powerful, impactful plays much, and won't be relied upon as a pass rusher at the next level". Hightower on the other hand doesn't just get to the quarterback, he CRUSHES THEM. Watch the first 1:06 of the below video and not only will you be unequivocally convinced of this, but you will have serious concerns for Peyton Mannings physical well being. I am not exaggerating (you may want to mute the video). Please do yourself a big favor and watch it right now.
3. Size matters- Kuechly played at 237 lbs last year before putting on 5 lbs for the combine. Hightower played almost 30 pounds heavier. Hightower is an intimidator in the run game who adds brings an aggressive mentality to a defense. Kuechly's play is very similar to Derrick Johnson's in that he is more of a sideline to sideline tackler. Hightower's style of play is a perfect compliment to DJ. At 265 pounds he will be the biggest starting ILB in the NFL.
4. Speed – Kuechly's impressive 40 time of 4.58 speaks for itself while Hightower ran a 4.68 at the combine. Hightower's time however, is as fast or faster than most of the top pass rushers in this draft. This includes 1st round talents: Melvin Ingram, Courtney Upshaw, Whitney Mercelis and Andre Branch. Even Nick Perry ran a similar 4.64. All of these players are currently looked at as being limited, outside rushers only. Really? And Hightower is devalued?
5. Intangibles - Dant'a Hightower was voted by his teammates as captain for SEC National Champion Alabama. This defense was the best in the country and probably the best we've seen in many years. In the championship game, LSU didn't get past the 50 yard line until late in the game.
I'm gonna ask you to put on your scouting hat for a moment. Forget what you've read from the "experts". Look at the tape yourself and ask who would you rather have? I would be happy to have Kuechly but I would be really PUMPED with Hightower!
P.S. You gotta watch the interception and return from the above video. 30 yards and almost a touchdown is another reason to be impressed.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYqUyVPenvAour (listed above)