The Tar Heels’ Dwight Jones received a lot of publicity and accolades for his outstanding 1,000-yard senior season, but off-field and inconsistency issues dropped him out of the 2012 draft altogether. Highsmith finished second to Jones in receiving last season as a junior (51 receptions, 726 yards, five TD), and should match his former teammate’s accomplishments in 2012 – then do him one better by locking up a mid-round draft slot in April.
It didn’t take long for the North Carolina high school star (whose nickname has been “Mook” or “Mookie” since he was young) to make an impact for UNC. He had back-to-back 100-yard efforts in just his third (against East Carolina) and fourth (Georgia Tech) games, and finished with 37 catches for 425 yards and two scores in the 2009 season. His numbers decreased as a sophomore (25-348, three TD), even though he received eight starts and played in all 13 games. Highsmith was a full-time starter (12 of 13 games played) in his break-out junior campaign.
Owns the requisite height and length to line up outside. Keeps a step on his man once his strides kick downfield, but also shows the quick feet to free himself inside. Comes off the stem well on outs to separate, also using his frame to shield cornerbacks, while also freezing defenders with jerk routes to find himself in a wide open area. Tough runner after the catch who lowers his pads to fight through tackles, can also make the first man miss with a quick sidestep. His hands are strong enough to grab throws before they reach his body and reach up for high passes, even in tight quarters. Coaches set him in motion, as if running a reverse, several times in some games to create confusion in the defense.
Build-up speed and average agility might prevent Highsmith from being among the elite prospects in the class; he takes a few steps to get to his top striding gear and won’t out-run or elude NFL cornerbacks on a regular basis. Shows potential as a blocker with his size and strength, but needs to attack his man and move his feet while engaged to sustain.
Highsmith scored 100-yard games two of his first four games as a freshman, and then rebounded from a less productive sophomore year to excel as a junior (51-726, five TD). He has the size and hands to be a solid mid-round selection as a possible number two or three receiver filling out a strong NFL receiving corps.