Many fans reacting negatively to the Ravens’ decision to trade out of the first-round on Thursday night have lamented the loss of Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower to the New England Patriots.
The scenario appeared to be playing out perfectly for those coveting the talented inside linebacker as the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Stanford guard David DeCastro with the 24th pick despite being rumored to take Hightower as the replacement for James Farrior. However, the Patriots then swapped their 31st pick and a fourth-rounder (126th overall) to the Denver Broncos to move into the 25th slot and nab Hightower.
Those asking why the Ravens wouldn’t pay that price to move up must remember their fourth-round selection was a compensatory pick, meaning general manager Ozzie Newsome was prohibited from using it in a trade. It’s unlikely that Denver would have been happy with a combination of picks from the final three rounds, so the Ravens probably would have needed to dangle their third-round selection to move to the No. 25 slot, especially with another team interested in trading with the Broncos.
Had the Ravens decided to move up to draft Hightower, I suspect many would be criticizing them for needlessly surrendering another pick to trade up since the Steelers chose a player other than Hightower and there would have been no way of knowing New England’s ultimate intentions. The lesson is it takes two parties to consummate a trade, and it’s far more complicated trying to anticipate what the other 31 teams are trying to do.
While Hightower is a talented player and may develop into a Pro Bowl linebacker, I still question whether he would have been worth surrendering a third-round pick in addition to the first-rounder you’d use to select him. Many fans and media alike are fascinated with the concept of finding an “heir apparent” to Ray Lewis, but it’s important not to idealize a given player as the only one who can take Lewis’ place in the next year or two.
You’re simply not going to find another Ray Lewis and placing those expectations on Hightower or any other young player is unfair and will ultimately leave fans disappointed, no matter how good the player might be.
I suspect much of the morning-after frustration stems from the anticipation for the start of the draft, only for the Ravens to come away without a pick on Thursday night. With the Ravens scheduled to make three picks on Friday night, the mindset will likely improve by the end of the third round.