Path to the Draft 12: Alabama's Upshaw

By now, you might have read about Courtney Upshaw's pro day workout on Thursday. That's just a very, very small piece to the puzzle. Here's a look at the big picture, from the veteran eyes of NFL Scouting's Dave-Te Thomas.

It was fitting that South Carolina's Melvin Ingram had his pro day on Wednesday and Alabama's Courtney Upshaw had his on Thursday.

The Southeastern Conference boats the top two linebacker prospects eligible for the 2012 NFL Draft in Upshaw and Ingram. Even though the Gamecocks' Ingram recorded 19 quarterback sacks over the last two seasons, to a man, any league offensive coordinator will tell you that Upshaw is the "most feared" pass rusher in the conference and one of the best in the nation.

Upshaw (6-2, 272) demonstrates outstanding explosion coming off the snap and gets most of his backside success due to his quickness, as he will generally surprise a lethargic offensive lineman. He shows good balance and body control working his way down the line and has the second gear to generate long pursuit. He is shifty on the move, with the stop-and-go agility to immediately change direction. He has the vision to locate the crease and does an excellent job of using his burst to close and pressure the pocket.

Upshaw spent two years playing in a support role, but in 2010, he embraced the Crimson Tide's "Jack" position, a hybrid between a strong-side outside linebacker and rush end that was made popular by the Denver Broncos' Von Miller during his college days at Texas A&M. Since taking over those duties as a junior, Upshaw delivered 32.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage, 16.5 sacks and 13 quarterback pressures -- seven of which caused interceptions -- during a 26-game span.

Speed is his best rush move, but Upshaw has great hand placement to slip out and avoid blocks on the move. He comes off the edge with a sudden burst, and when asked to shoot the gaps, blockers are often surprised by his explosion through the holes. The thing you see on film since his junior year is that he combines his quickness with efficient inside counter moves to pressure the pocket. He has developed swim and rip moves working inside but is better at getting to the quarterback when playing off the edge.

While Upshaw does not have a ton of sacks, like Miller produced for Texas A&M, he is effective at generating pressure due to his speed and second gear. He bears down on the pocket and has the acceleration to get to the quarterback, even when he has to take a wide loop. He has the explosive burst to flush the passer out and stays in control when closing. When he takes aim on the quarterback, he will get there in an instant. You can see his athletic agility when he flexes and bends his knees to get down the line of scrimmage.

Upshaw attended Eufaula High School in Alabama, playing for head coach Dan Klages. He started at defensive end and tight end, but Rivals.com regarded him as the nation's 12th-best outside linebacker prospect and the ninth-best player in the state, as that recruiting service placed a four-star rating on the senior. Scout.com also awarded him a four-star grade and ranked him 18th among the nation's defensive ends and selected him to their "Star of Alabama" squad in 2007.

As a junior, Upshaw was a consensus All-State pick, as the 240-pounder recorded 96 tackles (61 solos) with 12 sacks, 20 stops behind the line of scrimmage and three interceptions. As a senior, he posted 150 tackles (95 solos) with 22 stops for loss, seven sacks, an interception, three fumble recoveries and four pass deflections, and was named Alabama's Class 5A Lineman of the year. He also snared 20 passes for 496 yards and three touchdowns for the offensive unit.

Upshaw recorded 22 tackles as a true freshman and made his first start against Kentucky as a sophomore. In that game, he returned a fumble 45 yards for a touchdown.

"That's my first touchdown since I was a senior in high school,'' he said after the game. "I can remember that one, too - a tight end 'dump' (pass).'' Upshaw was asked if scoring a defensive touchdown got him anything special. "No,'' he said. "I got this box of chicken. But everybody got one of these.'' Upshaw referred to the team's post-game snack which was, appropriately enough, Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The 2010 campaign saw Upshaw return to campus with 20 more pounds of muscle added to his frame. The "jack" position would be his for 11 starting assignments, as he posted 52 tackles (32 solos) and led the team with seven sacks and 14.5 stops for losses. He caused four fumbles, recovered another and caused interceptions with both of his quarterback pressures. What makes his numbers more impressive was that he battled a high ankle sprain that limited his performance the first half of the schedule and limited him to just brief reserve duty vs. Penn State and Duke.

Even with the ankle injury, Upshaw found a home in the lineup. In the second half of the 2010 season, he looked fluid playing down the line, recording five sacks and six more stops for losses in his final two games of the season (Auburn and Michigan State).

Scouts viewing his late-season performance saw a player who is effective closing on the ball in long pursuit, showing the cat-quick moves you expect from a linebacker. He plays the game on his feet and is much more effective disengaging on the move than when stationary in the trenches. He was very good at running down plays along the perimeter and opponents averaged just 0.9 yards per rushing attempt vs. him through his final seven contests that year.

As a senior, Upshaw "loaded up the car" with postseason honors, as the consensus All-American and unanimous All-Southeastern Conference first-team choice led one of the most dominating college defenses in recent memory. He paved the way for the Crimson Tide to lead the nation in rush defense (72.15 ypg), total defense (183.62 ypg) and scoring defense (8.15 ppg).

No other team in the nation held opponents to less than 260 yards in total offense per game and no other team could contain their opponents to less than 11 points per game, among the 119 universities playing at the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision level. With Upshaw attacking the backfield regularly, the Tide ranked with the nation's leaders as the team averaged 2.31 quarterback sacks and 7.38 tackles behind the line of scrimmage per game.

Upshaw finished third on the team with 52 tackles (37 solos), matching his career-best from the previous season. He again led the Tide in sacks (9.5) and tackles for losses (18), causing five interceptions and producing six third-down stops with his 11 quarterback pressures. He caused two fumbles and had a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown vs. Florida. Those statistics were more than enough to justify the senior winning the Sylvester Croom Commitment to Excellence Award in 2011.

CAREER NOTES

Upshaw started 24-of-53 games at the "jack" linebacker position for Alabama, as he produced 141 tackles (88 solos) with 17.5 sacks for minus-103 yards, 36.5 stops for losses of 163 yards and 18 quarterback pressures…Caused six fumbles and recovered three others, advancing one 45 yards for a touchdown…Also scored on a 45-yard interception return…Blocked five passes…Upshaw's 9.5 sacks as a senior were the most by a Crimson Tide player since John Copeland and Eric Curry each recorded 10.5 in 1992…His three sacks vs. Auburn in 2010 were the most by an Alabama player in a game since Derrick Thomas had four in each of his 1988 appearances vs. Kentucky and Texas A&M…Upshaw's 36.5 tackles for losses rank 17th among active NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision players…His 18 stops behind the line of scrimmage in 2011 rank seventh on the school season-record list.

2011 SEASON


PATH TO THE DRAFT SERIES


Baylor C Philip Blake
Wisconsin C Peter Konz
Michigan C David Malk
Georgia C Ben Jones
Ohio State C Michael Brewster
Mississippi State C Quentin Saulsberry
San Diego St. QB Ryan Lindley
South Dakota St. WR Dale Moss
Southern Mississippi QB Austin Davis
Arkansas State LB Demario Davis
South Carolina DE/LB Melvin Ingram
Chuck Cook/US Presswire
Upshaw was named All-American first-team by The NFL Draft Report, Football Writers Association, Sporting News, CBSsports.com, Sports Illustrated and ESPN.com, adding second-team honors from Walter Camp and the Associated Press...Received first-team All-Southeastern Conference recognition from the league's coaches and the AP...Finalist for the Lombardi Award, which goes to the nation's best linebacker or interior lineman and the Butkus Award, which goes to the nation's best linebacker...Semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award...Recipient of the Sylvester Croom Commitment to Excellence Award…Played in 13 games, starting all but the Mississippi contest at the "jack" linebacker position…Ranked third on the team, as he tied his career-best with 52 tackles (37 solos)…Ranked second in the SEC and 18th nationally with a team-high eighteen tackles for losses totaling 90 yards, as that total ranks seventh on the school annual record list…Had a team-best 9.5 sacks for minus 62 yards, which ranked tied for fourth in the SEC and tied for 16th nationally...Registered eleven quarterback pressures and caused two fumbles… Also deflected a pass and intercepted another for a 45-yard touchdown return…Helped the Crimson Tide to lead the nation in rush defense (72.15 ypg), total defense (183.62 ypg) and scoring defense (8.15 ppg) on the way to their national championship.

2011 SEASON HIGHLIGHTS

Upshaw produced a forced fumble on a sack in back-to-back weeks vs. Mississippi and Tennessee and registered multiple-sack games vs. Mississippi and Auburn...Posted at least one sack in six of his final eight games...In the season opener vs. Kent State, he was in on 1.5 tackles for loss and half of a sack as the Crimson Tide defense held KSU to just 90 yards of total offense and minus-8 yards rushing to finish the day with seven tackles and four solo stops…Registered three tackles for loss (-6 yards) and four solo tackles in the North Texas clash, as he had a career-best three quarterback hurries…Harassed Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson with two quarterback hurries and several other hits after the ball left his hand, as he helped limit the Razorbacks to just 226 total yards, 291 yards below their season average entering the game…Was a one-man wrecking crew in the Swamp vs. Florida, making four solo tackles with three coming behind the line of scrimmage for a loss of 21 yards, as he also had one sack (-10 yards) and intercepted a John Brantley screen pass that he returned it 45 yards for a touchdown, in addition to coming up with one quarterback hurry…In the Mississippi contest, Upshaw did not start and sat out the first quarter due to disciplinary reasons, but came back to notch a season-high two sacks for a loss of 15 yards and had another quarterback hurry while forcing a fumble on his first sack that led to Jalston Fowler's first touchdown run of the night…Had one sack (-6 yards) and six tackles while earning Alabama Defensive Player of the Week honors vs. Tennessee, as he also forced his second fumble of the season on the sack as the Tide limited UT to just 155 total yards…Recorded one sack and made six tackles while he harassed the Louisiana State backfield with two quarterback hurries and helped limit the top-ranked Tigers to just 239 total yards…In the Mississippi State game, he notched a sack for the fourth straight week, had 1.5 tackles for loss (-9 yards) and made three total tackles to help limit the Bulldogs to just 131 total yards and just 12 yards rushing…In the Auburn contest, he equaled his season-high with two sacks and three tackles for loss that accounted for 19 lost rushing yards, in addition to totaling six tackles with five solo stops and one quarterback hurry to limit the Tigers to just 140 total yards...In the national title clash and second meeting during the schedule vs. Louisiana State, Upshaw garnered Defensive Most Valuable Player honors for his seven-tackle, one-sack performance in the Crimson Tide's mauling of then-No. 1 LSU, as he helped limit the Tigers to just 92 yards of total offense, including just 53 in the air and 39 yards on the ground.

2010 SEASON

Upshaw developed into the Crimson Tide's most dangerous pass rusher as the season progressed after recovering from an early season high ankle sprain...The junior started eleven games and saw action in all thirteen, but went down in the season opener vs. San Jose State, as he was limited and did not start vs. Penn State and Duke due to the injury... Returned to the starting lineup at Arkansas and finished the season with 52 tackles (32 solos), including 51 in the final ten contests…Led the team with 14.5 tackles for losses of 69 yards, including a team-high seven sacks for minus 40 yards...In the last two games of the season vs. Auburn and Michigan State, Upshaw recorded an astounding 15 tackles, including six tackles for loss (-48 yards) and five sacks (-36 yards) while forcing three fumbles...His final statistics for the year included two pressures, four forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a pair of pass deflections…Named SEC Defensive Player of the Week following the Florida Game…Returned to the starting lineup vs. Arkansas and made six tackles with four solo stops and his first sack of the season, as he also forced a fumble…In the Florida, he was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week as well as garnering honors from the UA coaching staff after producing made seven tackles with five solo stops and a career-best four tackles for loss (-7 yards), along with a forced fumble and two pass deflections in a 31-6 victory over the Gators…Registered four tackles, including one and a half tackles for loss (-5 yards) and recorded a quarterback hurry vs. Mississippi… Came up with six tackles, including three solo stops vs. Louisiana State and in the Mississippi State game, he totaled eight tackles, including three solo stops and registered his second sack on the season for a loss of three yards…Produced a career game vs. Auburn and was named one of the Defensive and Special Teams Players of the Week by the coaching staff as he delivered career highs in tackles (10), sacks (3) and forced fumbles (2). His three sacks were an individual season high for the Crimson Tide and seven of his 10 tackles were solo stops…Was virtually unblockable in the Crimson Tide's 49-7 victory over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl, as he led the team with five tackles, including three tackles for loss (-29 yards), two sacks (-17 yards) and a forced fumble as Alabama limited MSU to minus 48 yards rushing and 171 total yards.

2009 SEASON

Upshaw made one start, the first for his career (vs. Kentucky) and appeared in all fourteen games for the Crimson Tide at the "jack" linebacker position…Recorded fifteen tackles (7 solos) with four quarterback hurries...Returned one fumble recovery 45 yards for a touch-down vs. Kentucky and recovered another fumble that sealed the BCS National Championship Game vs. Texas.

2008 SEASON

Upshaw was one of sixteen true freshmen to see playing time in 2008...Played in the final thirteen games and was a reserve at "jack" linebacker along with starting on the kickoff coverage team...Recorded 22 tackles (12 solos) with three stops behind the line of scrimmage, a pressure and two pass deflections.

INJURY REPORT

2010 Season…Upshaw suffered a high ankle sprain vs. San Jose State that would limit his playing time vs. Penn State and Duke, along with being held out of practices for several weeks.

AGILITY TESTS

4.72 in the 40-yard dash…1.64 10-yard dash…2.62 20-yard dash…4.09 20-yard shuttle… 11.62 60-yard shuttle…6.98 three-cone drill…35-inch vertical jump…9'3" broad jump… Bench pressed 225 pounds 22 times…32-inch arm length…9-inch hands…75 ¾-inch wing-span…9 Wonderlic score.


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Dave-Te Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. At NFL Scouting, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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