Ozzie Newsome should draft Dont'a Hightower to be Ray Lewis' successor

Ravens general manager needs to do whatever it takes to land Alabama linebacker

April 22, 2012|Kevin Cowherd

Ozzie Newsome, you could make a lot of Ravens fans happy Thursday.

As the team's general manager, you have a chance to do something in this NFL draft that people around here have talked about forever.

That's right, you have the chance to draft the eventual successor to Ray Lewis. How long have we been talking about finding his heir apparent? At least six or seven years, right?

But now you've got a shot at this kid Dont'a Hightower, the big, high-impact linebacker from Alabama. And, yes, it might take some maneuvering to land him, which we'll get to in a moment.

But you should go after him, Ozzie. Go after him hard. Don't let this kid get away.

Understand, no one's suggesting Ray Lewis is ready for a rocking chair. But the man does turn 37 next month.

Thirty-seven, Ozzie! In middle linebacker years, that's like having an AARP card. And being told you need more fiber in your diet.

Everyone makes a big deal about Jamie Moyer pitching for the Colorado Rockies at age 49.

But Moyer isn't slamming into 240-pound running backs and shedding mammoth offensive linemen on every play.

And Moyer doesn't have cheap shot artists like Hines Ward diving at his knees, ready to shred them and leave them with all the consistency of applesauce.

That's everyday life for Lewis in the NFL.

Yet somehow he endures. Let's face it: the man is an absolute physical marvel. And he's still a terrific linebacker as he gets ready for his — where have all the years gone? — 17th season in the league.

Sure, he's a little slower dropping back into pass coverage. But when he wasn't hurting from that toe injury that sidelined him for a chunk of last season, he was still one of the top players in the league.

He's still Ray Lewis, Ozzie. Still the heart and soul of the defense. Still the undisputed leader of the Ravens.

But he's not immortal. And how often do you get a shot at a game-changer like Dont'a Hightower, just when your All-Galaxy linebacker is winding down his illustrious career?

I don't have to tell you about Hightower, Ozzie. Again, he's from Alabama, your beloved alma mater. Which means you have better intel on this guy than the Navy SEALS had when they took out Osama Bin Laden.

But let's go over Hightower's dossier — OK, sorry, too much intelligence lingo — anyway.

The kid is 6 feet 2, 265 pounds and built along the lines of a Humvee. And he's everything you say the Ravens look for in a player.

He's big, tough, physical. He's a high-motor guy with a mean streak. He's passionate about football. And guess who he idolized growing up?

Yep, the old guy himself. No. 52.

Sure, the Ravens have the 29th pick in this week's draft, Ozzie. Which means Hightower could be gone by then. But if he's still on the board by, say, the 20th pick, you've got a great chance to get him. And quite a few draft experts think you'll pull the trigger on a deal.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated has you swapping your first-round pick with the Detroit Lions to pick at No. 23, right in front of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who also could be interested in Hightower. So you get the bonus of maybe sticking it to them, too.

King's scenario makes sense to me. Love to see it happen. Guess we'll find out if it does late Thursday night.

Sure, the Ravens have lots of other needs to address with this draft, Ozzie.

There's no question you need help on the offensive line, which seemed to wear down at the end of last season and got pushed around by the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

You could use another pass rusher, too. And another speedy wide receiver to complement Torrey Smith on the outside.

So you wouldn't be second-guessed if you filled any of those needs with a first-round pick. (Not that you get second-guessed too often when it comes to draft picks, Ozzie. Not in this town. Not with that track record of yours.)

But it would be great to finally land an impact player like Hightower to take over for Ray Lewis someday.

Let Hightower learn at the feet of the master. Let him pick Ray's brain about playing inside linebacker in the NFL throughout the OTAs and training camp and the long, grueling season.

Let him see up-close and personal what it takes to play the position for so many years at such an incredibly skilled level.

And maybe if he works hard and you get lucky — really lucky — Hightower someday turns into the next great middle linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens.

Wouldn't that be something to see?

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Mondays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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