With a National Championship in his final season at the University of Louisiana, it is fair to say that Tigers outside linebacker Ali Highsmith is ready to move on to the next level. Highsmith was one of the vocal leaders on the LSU team as he overcame some size issues to be one of their top defenders. Highsmith, whose cousin Alonzo was a seven-year NFL veteran (currently a scout for the Green Bay Packers), will enter this draft as an upper-echelon linebacker, although some recent struggles at the 2008 NFL Combine and a few questions about his size could see him drop.
In his final year with the Tigers, Highsmith played in all 14 games, starting at weakside linebacker. Highsmith finished the season with 75 total tackles (56 solo). He also caused two fumbles, recovered one and deflected six passes while recording 2.0 sacks. With those numbers, and being a leader on the field, Highsmith was one of the reasons the Tigers defense was third in the nation in total defense (289 yards allowed per game). He was named a Second-Team All-American by the Associated Press and was a semifinalist for the Dick Butkus Award, given out to the top linebacker in the nation.
Highsmith showed great athleticism at the collegiate level. He has lateral range in covering sideline to sideline and had good instincts on reading plays. This is the type of stuff that you can't really teach kids and shows he has the right frame of mind to play the game. He also rarely takes a down off and was a great leader for the Tigers. Each play it seemed as if Highsmith was buzzing around the field. As you would expect, Highsmith showed better skills covering passes than working against the run. He has decent closing speed and showed good instincts in getting to the ball.
Another positive for Highsmith comes from his familiarity with the NFL through his cousin. Highsmith said at the combine that he has learned from the mistakes his cousin has made, which should help to stay out of trouble once the money is coming in at the pro level. He has also received some help from his cousin, in terms of what to expect from pro teams, and how best to adapt at the next level. Also with his experience playing in big games in the Southeastern Conference, it should not be a problem playing in pressure situations in the NFL.
Highsmith is a tireless worker off the field. One of the strengths of his game he admitted at the combine was his ability to read plays. This can only be developed by studying film so he knows what to expect when he takes the field. This is the type of skill that Highsmith will have to continue working on in order to make up for his lack of height.
Highsmith acknowledged at the combine that he needs to work on a few aspects of his game before being ready for the NFL.
"Basically the things I need to work on are more like physical play, getting off blocks and things like that," he told KFFL.
That coincides with what many scouts feel are his main drawbacks.
With LSU, Highsmith had one of the premium line-disrupting defensive tackles ahead of him in tackle Glenn Dorsey. While he did not play directly behind Dorsey, Highsmith no doubt felt some of the pressure relieved as Dorsey drew countless double teams that left him with only one lineman to face on a lot of plays. However, this proved to be one of the biggest criticisms of Highsmith.
Highsmith does not possess the size you want in a linebacker at 5-foot-11 5/8, 230 pounds, and at the collegiate level he often had trouble getting off blockers. This should only increase once he reaches the next level. He will likely need to be protected in whatever system he plays in but has a lot of trouble shedding blockers at the point of attack.
With Highsmith's lack of size it would be expected that he has great speed, but at the combine he disappointed many by running two 40s, one a 4.95 and another at 5.10. Those are the type of numbers you normally expect from lineman. One theory is that Highsmith lost a step by putting on 10 pounds to his frame while training for the combine. That could be, or else he might not be as fast as many believed and was helped by playing in one of the top defenses in the nation. Either way, for a player that relies on his speed and quickness, those were some shocking numbers for scouts to see. While some players play faster than they clock, it still could hinder him at the next level where everyone is faster than what the SEC has to offer.
Expected Draft Placement
Highsmith has some work to do if he wants to guarantee himself a spot as a first day pick. If he can get the 40 time down, he could give teams some solid value as a second- or third-round draft pick. With his lack of size, however, it is tough to see him being an impact player at the NFL level. His best bet could be as a top-notch special teams player.
Highsmith could fit nicely as a weakside linebacker in a Cover 2 scheme. Potential landing spots for him would be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Indianapolis Colts or Kansas City Chiefs. Look for him to go at the end of the first day or the beginning of the second day in the draft this April.
About Bryce McRae
Bryce McRae is a Managing Editor with KFFL and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1999. He joined KFFL as a volunteer writer in March 2005 before becoming a Hot off the Wire Analyst in March 2006. He began working in his current capacity in September 2008. His work has appeared on fantasy sports sites such as Yahoo! and CBS Sportsline as well as in print. He graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2008 with a B.A. in History and U.S. Studies.
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