Two-time BCS National Champion and Alabama Crimson Tide Senior DE Courtney Upshaw is the 4th prospect in this pass rusher series. One of the things I keep bringing up in this series is jkvandal's post-combine post on the pass rushers. Unfortunately, Upshaw did not participate in the broad jump or the vertical jump so he wasn't able to give him an explosiveness number. While many of the top prospects chose to do all these tests, Upshaw was not alone among pass-rushers in bowing out of one or more of the tests.
In the big plays per game metric, Upshaw was near the bottom. There are probably excuses to be made for this, seeing as he played on one of the most-talented defenses in the country during his time in Tuscaloosa. There were probably plenty of times where some other play-maker beat him to the punch on a play that he could have made otherwise, especially early in his career. However, his 2011 totals of 18 TFLs and 9.5 sacks are nothing to sneeze at.
Since Upshaw was on that talented 2011 BCS Championship team, I included him in a few game previews throughout the season. Unlike some other players where I evolved by comments throughout the season, it seems I had the same standard one up for the entire year:
Impressive size for a guy that plays some 3-4 OLB in Alabama's defense. Or more precisely impressive bulk considering his range and speed, while his height is a little below the OLB prototype (although that usually doesn't scare the Chargers off). He gets good grades for that bulk as well as for his good hands he uses to fight blockers, his willingness to be a hard hitter that forces fumbles and his play in coverage. However his highest grade is for his instincts on the field. He doesn't get caught out of position and can sniff out those screens and running play trickeries as good as or better than any college player. Head coach Nick Saban praises his character even though Upshaw was arrested in 2009 for domestic violence. (1st round)
That first round projection I gave him hasn't wavered. He's ticketed to go easily within the 1st 20 picks and perhaps even too high for the Chargers to have a shot at him. His projection to both the 3-4 and 4-3 will keep all parties interested and so far it seems exceedingly likely that someone will grab him before the Chargers get a sniff. That being said, we want to know what the Chargers are in for if he does slide. Read more on him after the jump.
Over at MockingTheDraft.com they've covered Upshaw a couple of times. About a month ago they mentioned him in some post combine pass rusher talk:
Courtney Upshaw, Alabama, 6'1'', 270 pounds - Physicality is Courtney Upshaw's game. He is another guy who can probably play in either the 3-4 or 4-3. He is not a naturally fluid athlete, but he plays the game with an edge and has the strength to match up with NFL linemen. Upshaw is very tough, but his upside appears to be limited.
They also did a full write up:
6'1, 273 pounds | Outside linebacker/defensive end | Alabama
Coverage: In Alabama's 3-4 scheme, Upshaw wasn't asked to drop back in coverage very often. He doesn't have loose hips and could struggle in pass coverage, especially in man situations. Because of that, there are some questions about how well Upshaw moves laterally, which will hamper him in the NFL if he's asked to cover tight ends or running backs coming out of the back field.
Instincts/recognition: As a two-year starter, Upshaw was mostly utilized to get after the passer. Was able to line up at a variety of spots on the field without a problem. Rarely misses his assignment.
Pass rush: Upshaw gets low coming off the line of scrimmage. As a pass rusher, Upshaw gets most of his pressure standing up cutting around the corner. Shows a strong rip move to work to the inside. Is better, though, using a bull rush to close the pocket. Difficult to block. Possesses a good burst off the line of scrimmage, but doesn't have an elite first step. Has a nice variety of moves. Often lined up on the weak side and didn't have to deal with extra blocking from a tight end.
Pursuit: Relentless. When Upshaw gets held up on blocks, he doesn't stop on the play. He's always moving his hands or legs to close on the ball. Is a fundamentally sound tackler who uses good technique and has long arms. Sinks his hips and fires through the ball carrier. Has experience playing on special teams.
Run defense: Upshaw was lined up during his career at outside linebacker and at end. At both spots he held up well against the run. Has the strength to hold his ground and is strong enough to drive blockers back. Rarely misses on a tackle when he's playing downhill.
Strength: NFL-ready from a strength standpoint in one-on-one position. Easily gets off blockers, which is a combination of his power and hand technique. Strong throughout his frame. Has good power in his legs to drive blockers back.
Final word: If there is an NFL team looking for the next LaMarr Woodley, they have it in Upshaw. For a 3-4 team, Upshaw could make an immediate impact on three downs. He's a powerful pass rusher who is hard to block for any period of time. As a senior, Upshaw had 18 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. He often came up big in Alabama's biggest games, eating defensive MVP honors in the national title game against LSU. A 4-3 team will probably look at Upshaw as an end, a position he's being used at during Senior Bowl practices. He may not have the mobility required in a 4-3 linebacker.
Was arrested in 2009 on domestic violence, but the charges were dropped. Started the "41 Fund" to assist tornado relief in Alabama. Played through a sprained ankle in 2010.
Notice that LaMarr Woodley comp. The Chargers passed on Woodley a few times in the year the current Steeler was drafted, but would gladly take his production on their defense. Much like what the Chargers see as an ideal 3-4 OLB, Woodley has power to push through some blockers, but also works well in space when he can attack through the gaps. If Upshaw is that type of player he'd fit in nicely as a potential replacement for Shaun Phillips down the road and a more than capable backup in the near term.