MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Dont'a Hightower says he always believed he'd be a first-round NFL draft pick.
The former Alabama linebacker's stock appears to have climbed enough to fulfill that ambition next week. He was projected as a likely second-rounder at regular season's end but improved his prospects with a strong performance in the BCS national championship game and pre-draft workouts.
The 265-pound Hightower feels like questions about whether he's fast enough to play middle linebacker in the NFL ``are kind of in the past now.''
He was a finalist for four national awards last season and had career-highs in tackles (85) and sacks (four).
Hightower also was responsible for play calls and checks. Coach Nick Saban calls him ``a very, very bright'' player and praises his versatility as a pass rusher and run-stopper.