The Philadelphia Eagles selected John Hightower with pick No. 168 in the 2020 NFL Draft. In order to learn more about him, I reached out to SB Nation’s Boise State blog: One Bronco Nation Under God. Broncos writer Michael Johnson was kind enough to answer my questions.
1) Can you recap his college career?
John Hightower came to Boise State as a JC transfer, after a two year stint where he accumulated 509 yards and 7 TDs. When he was signed, no one knew a great deal about him, much less what he would become. Those stats aren’t exactly the kind that set the world on fire in recruiting circles. However, one of his coaches at Hinds Community College had previously coached another transfer player at Coffeyville CC (Cedrick Wilson) that came to Boise State and starred before eventually getting drafted by the Dallas Cowboys three years ago. Some combination of that coach’s relationship with the Boise State coaching staff and Hightower consistently flashing on film while they were actually scouting his teammate and eventual Mississippi State commit (Stephen Guidry) caused them to offer him. The speed was just too evident, so they took a chance on a kid with modest football production, but a track background. In his two years at Boise State, he caught 82 balls for 1447 yards and 14 touchdowns. Additionally, he had 317 yards and 2 TDs on the ground, and 639 kick return yards, including a touchdown (and a couple that were called back).
2) What are his strengths?
Leaning on the strength of his aforementioned track background, John has a whole lot of speed. He finished 4th in the 400 meter hurdles at the 2016 NJCAA National Championships. His combine 40 time was a solid 4.43, but that was with an extra 15 lbs of muscle he packed on between the end of the 2019 season and the combine. It wouldn’t shock me if he could actually clock a better time once his body adjusts a bit to the added mass. An additional strength of his is elusiveness in the open field and setting up blocks, especially for someone of his length at 6’2”. See: The first play in this highlight reel of an 88 yard TD run.
Also, this was a fun highlight of his from a game against New Mexico
I would say an underrated component to Hightower’s game is coming down with circus catches that seem impossible, but that leads to the following question...
3) What are his weaknesses?
Sometimes—albeit, rarely—there are catches that Hightower should make that he doesn’t. One of the criticisms is not being able to outmuscle defensive backs on some of those balls. One possible solution to that though, as previously mentioned, is that he has added some significant power to his frame in the offseason. That should help him a great deal in that regard.
4) Are you surprised where he was drafted? Higher or lower than expected? Just right?
The 2020 NFL draft will go down in history for several reasons, but one of them was an incredibly deep talent pool at wide receiver. In any other year, I would have expected him to go somewhere around the 3rd round. This year, however, I actually predicted he would go in the 5th. But still, a receiver of his talents as late as the 5th round is quite a steal—regardless of the year.
5) How do you see his NFL career playing out?
Outside of the clear, can’t-miss superstars, NFL careers are really decided by team fit and health. While he had some knicks and dings, he wasn’t what I would call injury prone. As far as ‘fit’, he is by all accounts a very affable and beloved teammate and the whole world knows Philadelphia can use gifted wide receivers after the nightmare of attrition at that spot last season. He’s also a willing and capable blocker. I think he’s in a great situation to have a productive and successful NFL career alongside fellow speedster and 2020 draftee, Jalen Reagor.
6) Anything to know about him off the field?
A surprising amount, actually, considering how rarely he was available for media sessions.
Our friend, Dave Southorn of The Athletic, has a great piece on Hightower playing for the memory of his friend and former track teammate that was killed last year. Part of his touchdown celebration is pointing to a memorial tattoo referencing him on his arm.
John is an avid cyclist, and the same body control necessary to pull off some of the crazier tricks on a BMX easily translates to his role on a football field.
You may have already seen this video of him on his bike, making coaches nervous:
In the offseason this last year, John went to a veteran’s home as part of community outreach and, if I recall correctly, Coach Harsin mentioned that he went back several times on his own. Part of that experience that Coach Harsin mentioned as standing out is that he received a personal letter from one of the residents, raving about John Hightower as a person.
BLG’s take: Hightower projects as a backup wide receiver who’ll have to cut his teeth on special teams — possibly as the primary kick returner — before potentially earning a larger offensive role. He might just be a role player at most to start out. Hightower could eventually develop into a starter.
Spider graph via Mockdraftable: