Yesterday we had a look at one of my top-rated prospects for 2012 – West Virginia’s big-play defensive end Bruce Irvin. I’m going to continue looking at potential LEO pass rushers today by previewing Brandon Jenkins (Florida State), Jonathan Massaquoi (Troy) and Courtney Upshaw (Alabama).

Brandon Jenkins – ranked #17 in my top-50 prospects for 2012

He recorded 14 sacks last year as the star of FSU’s developing defense. Has a great first step and the necessary edge speed to consistently trouble college offensive lineman. The tape shows strong performances against Orlando Franklin (Miami) and Anthony Castonzo (Boston College) – both high draft picks this year. Explodes off the snap instantly putting lineman in a defensive position.

On the negative side he’s a bit of a one trick pony, not dissimilar to Robert Quinn and Justin Houston last year. Unlike Bruce Irvin he doesn’t mix things up as much by cutting inside and it becomes a bit predictable rushing off the edge over and over again. Spin move needs some serious work and is often poorly executed. Could also be stronger at the point of attack, doesn’t have great hands and no real evidence of a strong bull rush. Nobody can complain about Jenkins’ edge speed and it could be enough alone to warrant high draft stock, but it’s difficult to watch a freak of nature like Irvin and not pick faults with the guys on offer today. Even so, Jenkins production should continue and he has a shot at the top-15 next year.

Tape courtesy of the impecable Aaron Aloysius:

Jonathan Massaquoi – ranked #18 in my top-50 prospects for 2012

Lacks the same kind of explosive burst that Jenkins has but he’s a fluid strider with good lean and clearly has major athletic potential. Reminds me a bit of Jason Pierre-Paul. Almost identical size (6-2, 250lbs) to Jenkins but looks bigger on tape. Hands let him down, almost no punch at the point of attack and when he can’t beat his man round the edge he’s often flushed out with basic engagement. Better force against the run despite that lack of power in the pass rush and is comfortable cutting inside to offer protection up the middle.

Incredible balance which enables him to round tackles when they can’t get their hands on him. If he can get stronger and work on hand placement there’s no reason why he can’t line up in a front four. Jenkins is more of a LEO or OLB prospect but I like Massaquoi’s run defense, he just needs to do a better job when taking on lineman, getting leverage and finding any kind of bull rush. Also had fourteen sacks last season and that’s something that should be maintained in 2011. You expect improvements over spring and with the athletic potential on offer, there’s no reason at all why Massaquoi can’t continue to develop.

Courtney Upshaw – ranked #31 in my top-50 prospects for 2012

Upshaw ended the year strongly to offer some hope he could have a break out season in 2011. For the most part he was largely ineffective in 2010 and the tape below will offer some evidence of that. He played off the edge for Alabama but he’s significantly slower than Jenkins and Massaquoi and has an extra 10lbs on both. Although I’ve listed him as a LEO prospect here, he may not have the necessary edge speed or height for the position. In fact, his future may lie moving to inside linebacker or working in a 4-3 strong side position. To combine the lack of explosive edge speed, he’s also not got great hands or punch and often gets caught up by average offensive lineman.

Upshaw really benefited playing on the same line as Marcell Dareus, as we see with his sack on the tape below. Dareus eats up a pair of blocks easily, allowing Upshaw an unchallenged route to the quarterback. Even so, occasionally he offers a burst of athleticism or playmaking quality that makes you take notice. In the Florida game below, it’s two instinctive tipped passes. He does a good job holding the point against the run even if he doesn’t have elite strength. If he can find a bit more explosion next season and continue to record sacks, he could get a boost up the board.

Tomorrow we’ll take a further look at USC quarterback Matt Barkley and break down his performance against Stanford.