by rabblerousr on Apr 20, 2012 6:00 PM CDT in Dallas Cowboys 2012 Draft
Courtney Upshaw celebrates after a defensive stop versus arch-rival Auburn
Our draft prospects series remains in the middle of the defense with this look at Alabama DE-OLB Courtney Upshaw who, in 2011, was clearly one of the premier pass-rushers college football. Upshaw was an impact defender on the country's best defense and an integral part of 'Bama's National Championship run. For his efforts, Upshaw was given an entire trophy case full of awards: first-team All-American by the multiple organizations; finalist for the Lombardi Award, which goes to the nation's best linebacker or interior lineman, as well as the Butkus Award, which goes to the nation's best linebacker.
The much-heralded Upshaw finished second in the SEC with 17 tackles for loss and led the team with 8.5 sacks, which gave him 16.5 for his college career. He also recorded a team-high 11 quarterback hurries. To add to this a bit, Upshaw posted at least one sack in five of his last seven games and the Crimson Tide coaching staff named him Defensive Player of the Week five times in 11 games. And he plays bigger in big games; in Alabama's 49-7 thrashing of Michigan State in the 2010 Capital One Bowl, Upshaw was voted MVP after a pair of sacks, five tackles (three for a loss) and a forced fumble. Here's a long set of cutups, from the 2011 season, and here he playing in the National Championship Game against LSU. As these clips attest, Upshaw is often dominant on the field, demonstrating terrific instincts and an uncommon awareness for draws, screens, counters and reverses.
The real head-scratcher with Upshaw is: what position will he play in the pros? He's a classic "tweener" - too small to hold up as a defensive end, and not quick enough to win match-ups as an outside linebacker. Some pundits claim he's best suited to inside linebacker. At the Combine, he seemed to be answering the question himself, showing up at a robust (and 4-3 DE-like) 279 pounds. Perhaps as a result, he struggled in the change-of-direction and linebacker-specific position drills, particularly when dropping back into coverage. Wanna see? Here's his incomplete Combine workout; at the last minute, he opted not to run the forty or to participate in the jumping drills.