Of all the analytics picks the Eagles made in this draft, this is the only one I’m more or less OK with.
With the possible exception of Utah edge rusher Brad Anae, who went to the Cowboys 11 picks later, there’s really no one else that I think would’ve been a better pick at 168.
I’m not crazy about Hightower’s scrawny frame, which could negate some of that 4.43 speed if he can’t get off press-man coverage against bigger, stronger NFL cornerbacks.
NFL Network draft analyst Ben Fennell likened him to the Giants’ Darius Slayton, which I think is a good comp.
Similar body type. Same speed neighborhood. Slayton was taken with the 171st pick last year and had 48 catches and 8 TDs and averaged 15.4 yards per catch as a rookie. If the Eagles can get that kind of rookie production out of Hightower, Howie Roseman will be ecstatic.
Hightower is both a vertical and horizontal threat. He had 12 catches of 40 or more yards in his two seasons at Boise State. The Broncos also used him a lot in the run game on jet sweeps and end-arounds and other gadget stuff, which seems to be the Eagles’ plan for both this kid and first-round pick Jalen Reagor. Hightower averaged 9.6 yards per carry on 16 runs last season.
Hightower isn’t a great contested-catch receiver, and there were some predraft character questions about him. But in the fifth round, you’re willing to ignore some warts if you see enough talent.
For a fifth-round pick, I like John Hightower. This might be the type of pick that will show us down the road whether the wide receiver corps depth that was so highly touted in the 2020 draft was as good as promised.
Hightower is a skinny deep threat who seems to have untapped potential, having started college as a track athlete. I’ve been hearing really good things about new Eagles wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead, so I think this choice could really work.
Given the lack of OTAs and minicamp — not to mention training camp, which hardly seems likely to start on time — it’s tough to say if any rookies can have an impact right away. Even under normal conditions, I wouldn’t be looking for Hightower to play a lot right away, he needs too much work on routes, getting off the line, and so forth.
If Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson really are in the team’s plans this season, that’s two game-day spots taken. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, as a 2019 second-round pick, will have to play himself out of the picture. Greg Ward probably is going to be more game-ready than any of the rookies, and you know No. 1 pick Jalen Reagor figures to be active on game day. That’s five, before we get to anybody like Hightower, promising 2019 project Devontae Booker, or sixth-round rookie Quez Watkins.
So, let Hightower practice and learn. It won’t be long until Jeffery, and probably Jackson and maybe Arcega-Whiteside, are no longer in the picture. Hightower will play then, if his potential is what the Eagles think it is.
Hightower is a really solid Day 3 prospect and it’s likely he’d have gone a round or two earlier in a less loaded wide receiver class. By the fifth round, every player still available is there for a reason. Hightower’s eventual role in the NFL isn’t as much of a projection as many late-round picks would be, though.
He wasn’t a high-volume receiver in college, and I wouldn’t expect him to develop into one as a pro. What he did manage to do well in college was make explosive plays on a consistent basis, averaging 18.5 yards per reception on 51 catches. It might take a season or two, but he could become another deep threat for the Eagles, who spent all offseason looking for them.
The thing that stands out when watching Hightower is how well he tracks deep balls. He seems to do a really nice job manipulating defensive backs as he runs down a pass to make sure he’s got separation at the catch point. He ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash and his 1.49 10-yard split was in the 98th percentile among wideouts, meaning he’s got great burst.