Why I’m starting to get excited about Upshaw

April 22nd, 2012 | Written by Kip Earlywine

Written by Kip Earlywine

Last night I sat down to begin my Draft Spotlight article for Courtney Upshaw, and like I had done previously with Zach Brown, I had to stop partway through because I felt that a scouting report wouldn’t sufficiently convey the thoughts I had discovered while going through the process.  I’ll go ahead and treat this like a scouting report and include my Draft Spotlight graphic, but there is also a larger point I want to get across.

Before today, I liked Upshaw as a player but I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that drafting him to fix our pass rush was misguided.  I had seen a few compilation videos of Upshaw.  He wasn’t explosive.  He didn’t seem fast enough to fit the LEO role currently occupied by Chris Clemons.  And while I thought Rob’s estimated guesses about scheme changes made a lot of sense, in the back of my mind I wondered.  Changing the defense fundamentally for Von Miller is one thing.  Changing it for a guy like Upshaw is another.  Then there was the question about how Seattle would shift its defense around to make it all work.

After scouting several games tonight, a realization came upon me.  I’ll get to that realization later in the scouting report section, because first I think its important to explain the entirety of my observations so that my thoughts will make sense.  I want to show my work so that you can understand the answer I came to.

Background:

Coming out of high school, Upshaw was ranked a four star prospect by both Scout and Rivals.  He was the 4th best graduating high school defensive end in the country according to ESPN.  Upshaw had a whopping seven different scholarship offers, but settled on Alabama since he was born and raised there.  At Alabama, Upshaw was promoted to full time starter during his junior season (2010) and started nearly every game since.  During those two seasons he accumulated 16.5 sacks and 32.5 tackles for loss.  Upshaw started in two bowl games, and was awarded MVP both times, including the MVP of the 2011 national championship game.  He was also a consensus All-American in 2011.

Scouting report:

Thankfully there is a lot of material out there for Upshaw, so I was able to get a larger than usual sampling of his play.  One thing that really surprised me is how many 4-3 fronts Nick Saban uses in his “3-4″ defense, and on almost every single play that featured Upshaw, he was lined as a 4-3 end, typically on the strong side, though occasionally he’d see snaps at weak side end too.  Upshaw only played a handful of snaps at linebacker in the seven game sample I broke down.  He only dropped into coverage one or two times as well.  Almost without exception, Nick Saban used Upshaw like a typical 4-3 end, but dropped him into coverage even less than a typical 4-3 end would.

As strictly a 4-3 end, Upshaw probably reminds me the most of Adrian Clayborn, whom I was a big fan of in last year’s draft.  Both are enormous strong side ends in the 280 pound range who win with power and awareness instead of speed.  Clayborn posted 7.5 sacks as a rookie on what was otherwise a disastrous 2011 season for Tampa Bay’s defense.  If Seattle drafted Upshaw with Adrian Clayborn in mind and gave Upshaw Red Bryant’s job straight up, it would upgrade the team and the pass rush.  Maybe that’s what the Seahawks could be thinking, and it wouldn’t be a terrible idea, but based on some of the subtle traits I noticed in Upshaw’s game, I think there could be a better use yet, which I’ll explain a bit later on.

Upshaw has short 32″ arms, the same length as Robert Gallery’s.  For all the (well deserved) grief that Melvin Ingram gets for his short arms, they are only half an inch shorter than Upshaw’s.  However, when watching Upshaw’s tape you honestly wouldn’t know that he had short arms, because his arm usage is one of his biggest strengths.  Arm length is important because when linemen engage, the one with the longer arms has the first strike and all the advantages that come with it.  What’s neat about Upshaw, and this was only something I noticed after studying him very closely, is how he compensates for this problem.

Upshaw’s is not a speed demon, but his ability to go from a standstill to top speed is impressively quick.  One of the tricks he likes to do sometimes is to slow down before engaging, almost to a full stop, and just as he nears arms reach, he’ll explode into the blocker’s body, not merely engaging the blocker but attacking him.  This attack is sometimes preceded by a bit of a quick wiggle move, which makes the initial punch more difficult to deliver for the blocker.   Upshaw doesn’t do this to shed the block.  Upshaw is actually attacking the blocker’s upper body to throw off the blocker’s balance with a violent body impact, and Upshaw is pretty damn good at it.  The blocker remains engaged with Upshaw, which temporarily seems as if Upshaw is losing.  However, when Upshaw senses that he’s knocked the blocker off balance, he turns on the jets and walks the blocker into the backfield like John Carlson attempting to block Jared Allen.  Off balance and reeling, the blocker is doing his best just to simply stay in Upshaw’s way.  Upshaw powers into the pocket in moments, and uses his impressive upper body strength to shed the off balance blocker with ease and close for the pressure, hit, tackle for loss, or sack.

If Upshaw was able to pull off this power move with more consistency, he’d be a threat to break double digit sacks with regularity.  The reason he can’t is precisely because he’s often playing in a five or six tech role that doesn’t allow him enough of a “flight deck” to take off.  Funny enough, I’ve always thought that Upshaw was a terrible fit for the LEO because he lacks the speed and agility of a typical weak side rusher, but on snaps when Upshaw is given the extra yard outside to work with he is able to explode and attack the blocker’s balance with much better consistency.  Just an extra yard or two often makes a big difference.  Now try to imagine how effective this attack would be if given a full running start instead.  It’s an exciting thought, and I’m surprised that Upshaw didn’t get almost any reps as a pass rushing linebacker when he looks his best with momentum at his back.

Upshaw is also very strong in run support.  He has the power and leverage to hold his ground, he has the arm strength to disengage from blocks, and he generally does a good job tracking the ball and knowing when to break free for a tackle.  He seems to always sniff out cut blocks, though unfortunately he doesn’t have the quickness to completely avoid being slowed by them.  I haven’t seen enough of Upshaw at linebacker to pass judgement, but my initial impression is that he’d be a more extreme version of David Hawthorne, really good against the run but even weaker against the pass.

I wouldn’t go so far to say that Upshaw stands out on a great defense, but you might say that he’s the Alan Branch or Red Bryant of the Crimson Tide, not because he’s anything like either of those players, but because Branch and Bryant made the defense better last year in ways that were not easy to notice, and Upshaw was just one of those players that somehow made his defense better.  There is so much NFL talent on Alabama’s defense that it would be almost impossible for that defense to have one true standout player.  We’re talking about a defense that is probably going to have three players go in the first round next week.

That said, I don’t think its an accident that Upshaw won the MVP award in both of his bowl games.  Not just because Upshaw stepped up big in both games, but because his tenacity and spirit sets the tone for the rest of the defense.  Nick Saban called Upshaw “the meanest player [he] ever coached.”  We saw last year how the nasty style of play by Red Bryant, Kam Chancellor and Brandon Browner helped set the tone and changed the mentality of the defense completely.  In that sense, Upshaw seems like a perfect fit for what Carroll is trying to build in Seattle.

I only have two notable complaints about Upshaw that haven’t been said elsewhere ad nauseum.  The first is that once the play is by him he will often jog in pursuit instead of running.  That’s a minor gripe, but there will be times in a game where backside pursuit can lead to an important tackle that minimizes damage.  For a guy that plays so hard when the play is in front of him, he doesn’t really share that urgency when he thinks the play is past him.

The other complaint is that for a guy who doesn’t get a ton of sacks, he had a lot of sacks where quarterbacks slipped or fell down and Upshaw was credited.  It makes his eight sacks a year stat feel like five or six instead.  Or to put it another way, it felt like Upshaw “over-achieved” to reach 16.5 sacks the last two years because of him having so many shoe-string sacks that very nearly weren’t sacks at all.  I think if Carroll plays Upshaw exactly as he was used at Alabama, he’d be a 5-8 sack a season defensive end in the NFL.

In conclusion:

Upshaw’s ability to disrupt a blocker’s balance and subsequently walk the blocker into the pocket is a potentially elite trait that has yet to be harnessed.  It’s probably because of this that Upshaw looked much more effective in pass rush attempts that gave him even a small head of steam at the start.  Nick Saban is one of the best coaches on the planet, but he didn’t experiment much with Upshaw and I’m starting to think he should have.  When Upshaw has enough momentum and power to unbalance blockers he looks like an elite pass rushing talent on those snaps.  The question is, “how can we enable Upshaw to be in that position more often?”

I’m guessing Pete Carroll has asked himself similar questions regarding Upshaw.  Not that I have anything against adding an Adrian Clayborn or Robert Ayers type player to this defense, but I wouldn’t do it at #12 overall, and I don’t think Carroll would either.  I think Carroll sees more than a sub-elite defensive end when he looks at Upshaw.  If given the chance to rush the passer from an outside linebacker spot with a head of steam, he’d be a fundamentally different pass rusher than the Upshaw who played at Alabama lined up directly across from the tackle and too often had to rely only on hand usage.

It’s common to dismiss the idea of Upshaw as a rush linebacker because of his lack of burner speed.  Fair enough.  It should be noted though that Lamarr Woodley, a 3-4 outside linebacker for the Steelers, ran the same forty time as Upshaw at a very similar size and weight.  Woodley has had 44 sacks over the last four seasons, and he isn’t as violent as Upshaw with his upper body use either.   Upshaw may not become a typical rush linebacker, but he wouldn’t be unprecedented.

How Seattle would get Upshaw on the field for a Woodley type role is a discussion in itself, but that’s not the point.  The point is that pass rushers are very hard to find, and if you feel good about your chances of landing a difference making pass rusher with a certain player who may not fit the scheme like a glove, there is a lot to gain by getting creative.  Carroll has already shown that he’s perfectly willing to tweak the defense to fit available talent.

Whether Seattle plays Upshaw at outside linebacker, the LEO spot, or another position that gives him some room to build up speed, I’m starting to believe there is a chance that he could develop into an elite level bull rush pass rusher.  And if I’m wrong, then Upshaw could still be a solid 4-3 defensive end who generates a modest amount of pressure while being very strong against the run.  If the Seahawks do draft Upshaw at #12, I think its because they believe they can get more out of Upshaw’s unique  talents than he showed at Alabama.  Even if they are wrong, Upshaw will still be a solid contributor to this defense.  Contrast that with Quinton Coples and Melvin Ingram, who have high ceilings but very low floors.  There is a chance that Upshaw has a high ceiling too, but he also comes with a nice parachute if he doesn’t become the bull in the china store that he could be.

Its hard to get behind a pick as high as 12th overall without feeling there is a chance that he could become an elite contributor.  But after looking into Upshaw very closely, I can see the faint signs of some untapped talent as a pass rusher that may actually give Upshaw a real chance to justify the #12 pick after all.

Compilation videos:

vs. South Carolina, Auburn and Michigan State (2010)

vs. Auburn

vs. Mississippi State

vs. Florida

vs. LSU

41 Responses to “Why I’m starting to get excited about Upshaw”

  1. pqlqi says:

    I’ve been a supporter of the concept of Upshaw and multiple roles he might play on the team, but the closer we get to the draft, it just doesn’t seem like he is the best choice at DE.

    If you want to slot him at any of the LB positions, Melvin Ingram makes more sense to make the transition because he is better in coverage if asked to be the SAM or the MIK, and he has more short area quickness and a bit more speed if asked to play the WIL. Ingram makes more sense as a Leo replacement with his much better speed rush, and even though his arms aren’t violent like Upshaw’s, he has quicker hands, and his spin move disengages the opponents grip almost all of the time in college. You can’t coach speed, and Ingram has more than Upshaw. Ingram also looks better slipping over to 3-tech than Upshaw (who can bull rush a tackle, but unlikely to bull rush an NFL OG); Ingram has far to much speed to be consistently stonewalled by a guard and will be less susceptible to the “short arm” disadvantage on the interior.

    When all is said and done, Ingram and Upshaw are quite different players, but maybe balance out to a same total score if you are grading them in a vacuum. Why do we think PC would draft the player who does not match up with the defensive scheme he has been perfecting for his entire career?

  2. Kurt says:

    Great read Kip! I’ve been a big fan of trading down as only DeCastro and Richardson excite me at 12. I think we have bigger needs. I’m liking what you’ve written and the videos I’ve watched. If anyone can get more out of a player it’s Carroll. I wouldn’t be disappointed with Upshaw at 12. I like Nasty on Defense.

  3. Vin says:

    As a pure DE, I agree that Upshaw is not the ideal choice. That being said, I dont believe the hawks are looking at Upshaw as either a pure DE or pure LB. Its the versatility he brings that we have to get behind in order to see him the way the Hawks see him. LB one minute, DE the next. The Woodley comparison is exactly the way I see him, and if he were to get even 7 sacks a season, I would be happy. As far as the ‘value’ argument……its obvious the Hawks put a different value on players than other teams. Im pretty sure the Hawks scored badly on their last couple ‘post-draft’ report cards. And even ‘value’ in terms $$$, the rookie cap makes justifying almost any pick moot, especially with QB. Based on what I’ve seen, I really like Upshaw for the Hawks, and like Kip said, I think they’ll be very creative with how they use him, in order to maximize his strengths. He’s definitely not the missing link or the final piece to the puzzle.

    Honestly, in the 1st round, Id be all for any of the Alabama defenders…Upshaw, Hightower or Barron. I cant wait for the draft, period….even if they make a pick thats completely out of left field.

  4. woofu says:

    I get it. I see the arguments pro and con but I also see Eric Williams pick this morning of Hightower. So many things could happen and as Softi reported (more than a rumor considering whom he attributes it to) trading up to get Cox is just another insider story.

    I continue to believe Pete and John are managing the “insider” stories better than ever this year so who they pick really is semi-tutored guesses. If you and Rob score on this one, big kudos go to you guys for sticking to your guns.

    One thing is for sure, whomever they pick will be debated heavily and still be a solid player despite the angst many will be sporting. I think it comes with the 12th pick and an ascending team.

  5. Vin says:

    Kip/Rob,

    Not to change the subject of Upshaw, but like what Woofu said is being reported….what are your thoughts on the possible move up for Cox? And what would it take to move from 12 to 7?

  6. Pacificsands says:

    The role you’re describing is what will lead the team to draft a player like Vinny Curry in the 2nd over a potential MLB like Kendricks. Curry can do exactly what Upshaw can do in the terms you describe – fit at RDE, LEO, or Rush OLB, with a lot of versatility.

    I know Rob is very much against this idea, but I believe that if Coples is there at 12, they’ll take him, and if he isn’t, it might be a player like Mercilius or Chandler Jones over Ingram or Upshaw.

  7. AlaskaHawk says:

    I’m on board with Upshaw if that’s who we choose. He is a solid player that will hold his position. I’m not sure that he is the elite rusher that we desire, but he is an instant starter on the Hawks team.

    There are other players who are better at rushing the passer from the DE spot, or at making tackles as a LB. That’s where the controversy starts. Upshaw brings a high motor and solid tackling to the position, and he played for a national champion. But is he really a DE at the next level?

  8. Matthew Baldwin says:

    Nice write up, Kip.

    I just can’t get behind Upshaw at 12. He screams tweener to me. He just seems like a jack of all trades and master of none. Hope I’m wrong if that’s the pick.

    I see the LaMarr Woodley comparisons but Woodley had 12 sacks as a senior and was a 2nd round pick. We’re talking about a similar player at 12 overall without the production.

  9. Jake says:

    Agree with Woofu 100%

    I think Upshaw is a smokescreen, has been all along – but surprises are going to happen, you can count on that. One big one I expect is to watch Keuchly slide down to the bottom of the 1st, early 2nd. Another one I expect is to see Perry and Mercilus taken before Ingram and Upshaw. All in all, I just can’t wait for the draft – this draft season has been a ton of fun. I almost don’t want it to be over this weekend…

    Thanks Kip and Rob!!

  10. MJ says:

    Jake – While I agree there will be surprises, I don’t think you can Qualify Upshaw as a smokescreen because outside of this blog, there has been zero connection of him with the Hawks. To me, Tannehill would be that screen.

  11. Rob says:

    Woofu – I was told a pass rusher will be taken through hell or high water. I wasn’t told definitely who the pick would be, just given names that were liked and advice on how the names were ranked. I don’t expect the Seahawks to trade up for Fletcher Cox, but he comes under the listing of ‘pass rusher’. What I will say is our source told us safety + offensive tackle in 2010 and said Berry + Williams were the initial targets at #6 and #14 before Trent moved up the board. I actually mocked for Seattle Eric Berry at #6 and Charles Brown at #14 based on the info we received. I know those picks were wrong per se based on my own projection, but they were also right because Seattle DID target OT and FS just in the reverse order. Last year we were told which names weren’t in contention and that the team would probably go OL if they stayed at #25. Thus, it happened. Whether Seattle takes Upshaw or Ingram at #12 I’m not 100% sure but if it’s a pass rusher the source works again. Because we’ve stuck by that info throughout while others have flip-flopped around DeCastro, Kuechly, Tannehill, Floyd etc. It will be a pass rusher even if it’s not Courtney Upshaw.

    Vin – I can’t see a move up personally. I wouldn’t rule it out 100% because at least the suggestion is the pass rusher type Seattle wants. But I expect Seattle to stay put.

    pacificsands – If that were the case, then our source didn’t get info on Mercilus or Jones (who in fairness, are the kind of late risers I would rather avoid). We were told the team liked Upshaw, Ingram and Curry.

    Jake – You are wrong about Upshaw being a smokescreen. We are not a national outlet that fills columns with bad info. Our source is direct and had never fed us deliberately false information. And Seahawks Draft Blog is never going to be high profile enough to instigate a smokescreen. The interest is legit even if they don’t draft the guy. And as MJ admits, if this were a smokescreen you’d be hearing his name in other more high profile places. Nobody has talked about Upshaw or Ingram. The team went to the Texas A&M pro-day instead of Alabama’s. Make of that what you will.

  12. AlaskaHawk says:

    Rob – Would you consider a linebacker like Kuechly in the first, and a DE pass rusher in the second, as meeting the requirements of the hawks and fufilling your predictions? Or would it have to be a pass rusher in the first? Kuechly does have the speed to pass rush, but then there would be a hole at his position.

  13. Jake says:

    MJ,

    Rob has stuck to the pick because he has sources that have led him to do so. That’s the smokescreen I’m talking about. Tannehill is another good example because JS/PC have been vocal about how good they think he is.

  14. Jake says:

    Rob – Please don’t think I’m calling your work bad or comparing you to the Kiper’s or McShay’s of the world. I love your work, and appreciate all the time you take in writing it. I just think it’s unlikely PC/JS will allow themselves to be put in such a phonebooth as to “come hell or highwater” pick a pass rusher. The intent could be to pick Ingram or Upshaw – but no one on earth knows for sure since the top-11 picks haven’t been sorted out. As for “not a national outlet” – don’t discount the following you have. I have read the Upshaw and Ingram picks for Seattle in a lot of places outside of SDB. Even ESPN is on the passrusher bandwagon (pausing occasionally to mock Tannehill to us). Whether that’s from reading your work or other “leaks” from the team – the media is on to the fact Seattle wants a passrusher.

  15. lonnie says:

    last year i remember yall were super high on kaepernick and thought the hawks were going to take him at 25. but that didnt happen. if upshaw is the choice then you guys might have some good sources because this guy is a bottom of the first round type talent. you want mediocre you go upshaw. 6 sacks a year isnt worth number 12 imo. a de who is short with short arms is not what we need, if so take ingram at least he is a little more scheme diverse. seahawks have had 9 picks each year under carrol and schneider and i dont see that being any different this year. they have 6 now so i see trade down as option 1 or take cox or decastro. if it is upshaw i will be disappointed he doesnt even have a position.

  16. Charlie says:

    @jake

    It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the hawks need a pass rusher; they were near te bottom in sacks this past year. As much as I think espn should listen to rob :) Their mocking has more to do with statistics than seeing this blog… Hence not a smokescreen. Ya dig?

  17. dave crockett says:

    What I like about how things are playing out is that there are probably five or six guys I’d be comfortable with at the end of the day, assuming we stay at #12.

    Upshaw/Ingram/Coples — for obvious reasons that have been detailed ad nauseum

    DeCastro/Floyd — based on possibly elite value

    Keuchly — I’d be less excited, but not disappointed

  18. Phil says:

    I think AlaskaHawk may have it right. Picking a MLB in the first and then a “pass rusher” (DE/OLB) in the second may be the way to go. But, instead of Kuechly — who seems to wait for the ball carrier to get through the line of scrimmage before he attacks (and had no sacks in 2011) — I’d opt for Hightower (4 sacks) or Kendricks (3 sacks) who appear to be more aggressive in attacking the ball carrier in the hole and in rushing the passer.

    Why is the focus on getting an edge pass rusher? Last year, the Seahawks got only 2 sacks from Hawthorn, zero from Mebane, and 3 from Branch. If the intent is to put more pressure on the QB, it looks to me that we have to get more production out of the big boys in the middle.

  19. woofu says:

    Well, we were 28th in total Offense, so those non-geniuses can point to that as well.

    For anyone to discount a curve ball or two from Pete just recall the tweet clues by way of songs as an indicator of his willingness to play games. If I remember right though those were clues as to who they were going to pick.

    Any Upshaw music out there? :)

  20. Guilherme says:

    Rob and Kip, from what I’ve read, Floyd and DeCastro seems like two potencial targets for the Chargers, and both could be taken by the Cardinals and the Cowboys. Wouldn’t make sense a trade, the 12th for Chargers’ 18th, their 3rd round pick (and maybe a 6th or 7th too)? Schneider and Carroll sure want more than six picks, and I think it’s probable Upshaw is still on the board. Thoughts?

  21. MJ says:

    Trade down (if possible) might put a guy like Vinny Curry right in their sights without feeling like they are reaching.

  22. andy says:

    That would be ideal. A modest move down, still enabling them to get Upshaw or Hightower and gaining a mid 3rd rounder.

  23. Rob says:

    alaska – No I wouldn’t. I think the team is zoned in on the pass rush as the main priority. If you want a pass rusher, you can’t wait until round two. There’s every chance they’ll be all gone. Yet the depth at linebacker will be good in R2/3. Kuechly is not a pass rusher.

    Jake – My source has indicated it will be a pass rusher and gave me some names that are liked. I assure you there is no smokescreen involved. 100% guarantee. Now that doesn’t mean the pick will be Upshaw or Ingram. That is my own projection based on info and grading. But that’s not to say the team won’t prefer someone else. I’m not guaranteeing a name, I’m only guaranteeing it’ll be a pass rusher. And it’s not the team putting themselves in a phone booth, they simply like the options available in this draft and it matches need. Quarterback could easily have been the target had certain players declared. This is about players + need, not just need.

    Lonnie – We were told the Seahawks liked Kaepernick and that he was ranked #2 on their QB board. We were told he would likely be the pick if the team moved down into the top of round two as they were hoping to do (the region he was eventually drafted). We were also told the team could still draft CK at #25 in certain scenarios. Just before the draft I also wrote a piece indicating the team were likely to draft an OL if they stayed at #25 based on info we received. The source was completely spot on – if you remember he also gave us a list of names the team weren’t going to draft and all proved correct. What we didn’t get was the name – James Carpenter. If you look at my last mock draft for 2011 I had Carpenter at #23 to Philly in round. If that had happened, who knows what the team would’ve done. I also think your review, such as it is, of Upshaw is incredibly harsh and appears to be based purely on the lazy negativity surrounding the guy right now. I recommend going back and watching the tape we supplied. The dude can flat out play.

    Guilherme – I expect some movement somewhere to get more picks, but I think we have to remember that the team are not solely driven by quantity here. There’s also a desire for quality. They had opportunities to move down in 2010 and didn’t with any of their first three picks. So while they may well move down, it doesn’t have to be in round one. But yes, teams who want DeCastro might have to move up. I just have a hard time believing anyone moves up to draft a guard.

  24. reccos82003 says:

    Rob is there any chance seattle would ponder picking up joseph addai? I think he’s a good player when healthy. Maybe I’m just remembering his glory days early in his career..if the pats are interested, shouldn’t we be?

  25. reccos82003 says:

    I know he’s 28 but if he can stay healthy I feel like he has a couple good years left; especially since he’s missed so much time to injury..

  26. Geoff says:

    Am I just blind? He doesn’t look very explosive to me. He seems like the slowest one off the snap every time. The funny thing is in that Florida game, where he picks off the pass and returns it for the TD, he’s only in position to do so because he’s the one guy still near the line of scrimmage being blocked by his guy. Was a great catch, though.

    I don’t think he’s a terrible player by any means, but I don’t even remotely see someone who can get consistent pressure on the QB. Maybe if they use him in the middle, like Jason Jones, bull rushing and fighting with his hands, but as an edge rusher? I don’t see him beating very many NFL level tackles.

  27. […] things first, don’t forget to check out Kip’s excellent write-up on Courtney Upshaw or the latest SDB community […]

  28. Rob says:

    reccos82003 – It’s not a bad shout depending on the draft. Running back is likely to be a priority in rounds 1-3. If the board falls awkwardly they’ll have to look at the veteran market for a #2.

    Geoff – It depends what you’re looking for I think. If you watch the tape not expecting to see a DeMarcus Ware type pass-rusher, I think you tend to appreciate more what CU does so well. He’s not a speed rusher, he’s not going to be used as such. But he’ll be a constant headache for a defense in the run game and there’s some L.Woodley to his pass rush.

  29. FWBrodie says:

    Upshaw is an absolute terror when he has momentum behind him.

  30. Hawkfin says:

    I did my last full research before the draft this weekend (Hit the LB’s hard)
    Went over our potential picks again. Upshaw, Hightower, Coples, Whitney, Luke, etc. etc.

    I really focused in on Upshaw to look at everything he can offer us, but I again just found myself not in love with him as our potential pick. I agree with everything Geoff, Woofu others have said here. He’s a nice player, run stopper, but not what we need in my personal view.
    I first thought Upshaw would be a LB/Hybrid in the pro’s, but I now realize he will be a DE. He did absolutely no coverage. Not to say he can’t do it, but on the limited tapes I’ve seen he’s not showing that he can or does do it. He’s at the line 99% of the time rushing. He’s all DE in my mind and rushes almost every time. He’s to big and slow for LB i think anyway. He’s got the body of a DE.

    Ingram has as many sacks as Upshaw, yet he doesn’t rush every down. He hangs back and plays some coverage. He often plays like a OLB or zone guy. He’s got enough speed and ability with some game tape to prove he can pull off a DE/OLB role.
    If Ingram were allowed to rush every time, then he may have a whole lot more production and sacks, pressures, etc.
    Even Upshaws tackles are only in the 50’s for being said to be so dominate. Although this is pretty typical I guess, or when compared to say Ingram/Whitney/Coples.

    Bottom line, is I see him primarily in the NFL as a run stopping DE. I don’t see him giving us pass rush every down or on 3rd downs. I see rotational probably even. I guess I want a Freeny type if we are going to be picking a DE. To me he’s just not fast enough for what I want in a DE. I want that edge rusher.
    I don’t see Upshaw as a Hybrid anymore. I think he’s a DE. And not the fast kind in the NFL.

    I think Ingram is the better fit for the roles of this “Hybrid” player. I won’t be surprised if he’s the pick. I respect the views of Rob, Kip, others and this isn’t meant to pick on Upshaw anymore either. I hope it’s not taken that way. I enjoy hearing the inside info! I could agree we get a pass rusher in the first. Sounds like valid inside info to me.
    But, I don’t think the pick will be Upshaw. I’ll support it if it is, but my vote would not be for Upshaw, unless we traded way down.

    Anyway, I want to point out some players at LB that I LOVE. I think there is some huge depth at LB late in this draft and a ton of guy’s at MLB also. This supports a pick of DE in the 1st as I think we can get a LB later now.
    This got me thinking if I really want Luke or Hightower?

    So I went back to the tape on these two and started to realize how slow Hightower looks sometimes. I moved Luke back to #1 and Hightower #2.
    If the inside source is wrong, I could easily see Luke as our pick. I started to really like him.
    I think he’s the best cover LB, has speed, has production. Solid/Safe pick who fills a need.

    I’m still on board for Whitney though. He’s the guy I love. I’ve been there already :)
    But, it has not changed after further review.
    And he would still fit into the criteria of what “the source” said. Actually, Whitney fits perfectly.

    Anyway, here’s some LB’s I really really like:
    T. Lewis/OLB – He’s one of my favorites.
    Nigel Braham/MLB – This is a Hightower clone. Nasty.
    Burfict/MLB – I like him a lot too
    Kenndricks/OLB – Saw a few issues
    Tank Carder/MLB –
    Lavonte David/OLB
    Najee Goode/MLB
    So so on Z. Brown/OLB

    Guy’s I have as DE’s that I really liked:
    A. Branch – To me he’s as good of a pick as Upshaw
    Shea McClellin
    Jarred Crick – Actually have him as DT, but like him
    Adrien Hamilton – Love this kid
    Cam Johnson
    Ronnell Lewis/Hybrid role
    J. Blatnick/Hybrid

    I was not a fan of Curry at all. And a little lower on Chandler Jones then most.
    I’m really worried about Coples. After additional looks, I’m not a huge fan anymore.
    Whitney is my clear #1.

    I think our pick comes down to: Ingram, Luke, Whitney, Coples. (Maybe Hightower)
    Or maybe that’s just my hopes.

    Can’t wait for next week!

  31. Leonard says:

    The best part about this post was the quote from Saban. I’d love to have the meanest player he ever coached on the Hawks defense. It is also very telling that he was the MVP of the last two bowl games on a defense with as much NFL talent as I have ever seen. Big game players with a nasty streak are a good thing. Thank you Kip for pointing out there is more than one way to get to the QB.
    I am confused by some of the Kuechly love in the comment though. He is a good prospect and he would have to be to get drafted in the first round at a lesser valued position but alot of people seem to be overlooking some pretty big flaws. Aside from the lack of pass rush, which really isn’t his thing anyway, he has a hard time taking on blocks. Watch some game tapes and count how many times he runs around or bounces backwards off of blocks. That is why he makes such a high percentage of his tackles 5 or 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. That and how he tends to drag guys down while they fall forward rather than squaring them up. Now picture those blockers and ball carriers having NFL strength rather than ACC strength. I’m not saying he won’t be good, I just really don’t see an all around game changing type of MLB. I’d rather bet on Hightower’s upside and pass rush skills. Especially if they go with a devalued position like MLB at 12.

  32. Leonard says:

    Also, if anyone is interested in some later round pass rushing linebacker types, I suggest checking out:
    -Kyle Wilber from Wake Forest
    -Miles Burris from San Deigo State
    -Sammy Brown from Houston
    They might be special teams/rotational guys at first but they all seem to be very athletic.

  33. Saxon says:

    Physically and athletically Upshaw reminds me of Daryl Tapp. The big difference is temperament. Tapp was the typical Ruskell choir boy whereas Upshaw seems to be a cold-blooded killer. It is going to be anti-climactic when Upshaw’s name is called on Thursday, but he seems to fit the Carroll mold of a non-prototypical hybrid athlete with elite competitiveness. He will certainly make the overall defense better, but I am not sure that he will necessarily make the pass rush significantly better.

  34. AlaskaHawk says:

    Upshaw will make the pass rush better, but it will be the team effort that is better. I don’t expect him to get to the QB unless he is flushed out of the pocket or the blocking collapses. But he can apply pressure from his side and will give the rest of the team a better chance to break through and tackle him. That being said, the best pass rushing teams are able to accomplish it with 4 guys. Three guys isn’t enough, and five + guys rushing leaves your backfield open to the pass.

  35. Rob says:

    Teams becoming more aggressive though, I think I’m right in saying (not studied) that New York used a lot of five man rushes and had two cover linebackers (late round picks, specialists). And at the end of the day, if you have to max protect you’re only sending 2 or 3 WR’s. Put the faith in the secondary. Rushing five doesn’t automatically mean horrible pass defense.

  36. AlaskaHawk says:

    Yes your right Rob. I don’t mean to say our coverage will be bad, just a little weaker then it could be. With the accuracy of QBs like Manning and Brady, it will probably come down to one on one coverage anyway. They will burn you if you blitz though.

  37. Darnell says:

    I have a sneaking suspicion we may be able to slide back a bit and still get our guy. Mark Barron seems like the guy that a lot of teams will be jockeying for, everyone after us 13-21 could need/want Mark Barron.

  38. FWBrodie says:

    AlaskaHawk, if you send 5 at the QB (which would mean that you’ve called a blitz specifically), that leaves 6 in coverage against the offense’s maximum of 5 eligible receivers. If they haven’t called a blitz and Upshaw was at LB, he’s dropping into support coverage which makes it 7 on 5 or less. On third down, Upshaw may be in at LDE with Red on the sideline and then you have 7 in coverage not including Upshaw who’s rushing the QB. I fail to see the issue here. There isn’t any way an offense can force Upshaw into coverage or force a mismatch. NFL defenses are generally smart enough to avoid being exploited. Do you think every linebacker in the NFL is especially good in pass coverage or even most?

    Look at the other side of the coin as well. Do you think offenses will leave themselves exposed to a 5 on 5 pass protection situation against the Seahawks with a front of Upshaw, Red, Jones, Mebane, and Clemons? I doubt it. Will they even feel comfortable with a back in pass pro alone? The addition of Jones and another pass rusher from SLB makes the Seahawks’ base defense pretty terrifying. Imagine the power they could have on the field in short-yardage and goalline defense with Upshaw in there next to Red, Branch, Mebane, Jones, etc.

    There are a ton of new looks and possibilities for Gus Bradley and Pete Carroll to look at if they add a player of Upshaw’s ability and versatility.

  39. AlaskaHawk says:

    I would still submit to you that the best pass rushing teams can do it with four. Rushing more is fine if you need to. But you know you got the other team when you only need to rush four and can still sack the quarterback.

    Yes I would expect the other teams to use their running back to block out Upshaw. That makes it 6 on 5. Most of the backs are used to hard charging linemen or picking up the blitz.

    Our defense should improve tremendously and I am looking forward to the new look. Also to seeing some of our practice squad move up to the regular rotation. Exciting times!

    My biggest question isn’t about the line, it’s who the linebackers will be. Will Upshaw be playing OLB? Will Kuechly be our will?

  40. Dan V. says:

    It’s amazing what over-analyzing will do for perception. Upshaw has been the guy since the college season ended, and back then I was worried he wouldn’t last until #12. I’ve cooled on him since…..but reading this piece helped me realize it was likely only out of boredom.

    At the end of the day, I believe Upshaw fits precisely the mold that Carroll has in mind for building his defense. The guy is simply relentless and violent. You can teach someone a pass-rush move or two, what you can’t teach is intensity. One thing that sets great defenses apart is their ability to generate consistent pressure without having to send 6 or 7 guys. Imagine a rotation of Clemons, Mebane, Branch, Jones, Red, McDonald and Upshaw. You could even go with 5 man fronts with 2 LB’s in coverage in spots.

    I got sucked into believing Keuchly is the best fit for our most glaring need, but now I’m back on board. Upshaw or Ingram…. or bust.

    Is it Thursday yet?

  41. ivotuk says:

    Nice work! You even have me leaning towards liking the guy. I’ll tell what, this video of him really impressed me!

    http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-draft/09000d5d8285b8ab/Draft-Journey-Upshaw-returns-to-Alabama