Somebody pinch me because I must be dreaming, April has come at last! Are you guys as excited as I am?
For the next few weeks leading up to draft day I am going to breakdown a player a day that I believe the Ravens should/will target. Today I am starting with the player I think tops the list, Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw.
Courtney Upshaw is not a great athlete, but he is a great football player. He is a blue chip type player who will come in and likely be ready to start from day one if needed. He is considered an Elite pass rusher, but questions about his coverage ability have some experts projecting him to slide into striking distance for the Ravens.
What he Does Well
Upshaw’s pass rush abilities are as good as they are advertised to be. He does a great job as a Defensive end with his hand in the dirt as well as rushing from a standing position (on or off of the line of scrimmage) as an OLB. Upshaw doesn’t register a huge number of sacks (he had 9.5 last season) but he gets pressure on almost every play. I watched three games (LSU, Ole Miss, Penn St.) from last year and I saw him register 16 QB pressures (I classify that as a play where he influenced the QB into making a bad throw) and 3 sacks. That is over 6 plays per game that he made a major impact on in the passing game.
The best aspect of Upshaw’s game, which almost unanimously gets overlooked, is his ability to disrupt the opposing teams rushing attack. Upshaw sets the edge in the run game as well as any defender in the country. During the three games I watched I only saw him fail his assignment 2 times, both times he was double teamed out of the play. Upshaw consistently forced outside runs to the inside and right into the teeth of the Alabama Defense. On two plays during those two games I saw Upshaw chase down option plays all by himself, he would force a QBs hand and get him to toss the option pitch sooner than intended and then (at 6’2” 280 lbs) would chase down RBs who had a 3-4 yard head start on him. Players his size shouldn’t be able to do that. Simply put, Courtney Upshaw is an absolute nightmare for opposing teams and a disruptive force.
Where He Needs Improvement
Upshaw has a lot of potential as an OLB in a 3-4 defense but he is going to need to improve as a pass defender. He does a decent job of getting his hands up when he fails to close to the QB but he is a liability in coverage. He lacks elite level speed to keep up with fast TEs and slot WRs and can be forced out of plays due to his lack of coverage ability. He is better on zone plays but has a bad tendency to bite on pump fakes and play action and leave his zone open for quick strike passes of 5-9 yards. He has poor awareness when dropping onto space. He tends to struggle against double teams and can generally be forced out of a play by them.
How I See It
If you want to get a better look at Upshaw here is a short video that you can watch and read my commentary so you can see things like I see them. The Video is only about 5 minutes long but it will give you a decent look at Upshaw as a player.
The first play of the video you can see Upshaw (bottom of your screen) come down, shed a blocker and force another back about a yard which forces the ball carrier (Chris Rainey) to cutback inside where about 4 Alabama defenders wait to engulf him. This is an example of Upshaw’s ability to set the edge despite a double
team on the strong side.
At the 30 second mark you can see Upshaw forced out of a play after he bit on a play action, allowed Chris Rainey to chip to the outside and eventually make a catch for a gain of about 4. Upshaw hesitated and was never able to effect the play.
On the very next play, Upshaw makes a beuty of a tackle. There seems to have been a miscommunication on the O-Lina as to who was picking him up and he ends up coming free right up the middle and takes down one of the shiftiest players in football down easily.
The Next play is an INT he returns 45 yards for a TD. Don’t pay much attention to it because it was more or less a lucky play.
Fast forward to the 2 minute mark and you will see Upshaw get great separation, burst up the field and miss a tackle. It looks like a poor play by Upshaw but after watching it several times I love how Upshaw handles the play, he takes a route that forces Rainey back inside and delays him enough to allow the Alabama defensive line to close the gap and tackle him behind the line. Great Play.
If you go to the 2:22 mark you can see a play where Upshaw, Rushing the passer at the top of the screen, uses about 4 different moves and forces the QB into a bad throw, it ended up being a 12 yard completion but it could have been an INT if it weren’t for a blown coverage on the back end of the play.
At the 2:40 mark Upshaw takes advantage of a confusion play and bull rushes a G into a bad sack for about a 9 yard loss.
At the 3:42 mark you can see Upshaw get badly forced out of a play by a double team and a quick pass. The play ended in a poor throw but it had nothing to do with Upshaw.
Go to the 4:10 mark and you can see Upshaw setting the edge once again. He forces Chris Rainey to the inside on a quick read run and then, just to show off, he shoves his blocker out of the way and then fills the hole he just forced Rainey into and cleans up the play.
Upshaw is a falling player with elite capability. He isn’t as bad in coverage as some people would have you believe and he does show some promise in that area. While he does struggle against double teams, the reality is that on the Ravens roster, playing opposite Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata, teams wont have the luxury of double teaming him which means he will almost never face them. Upshaw potentially gives the Ravens a dominant force of pass rushers between Suggs, Upshaw, Ngata, Kruger, McPhee and SS Bernard Pollard.
Pro Player Comparison: Tamba Hali, DE/OLB, Kansas City Chiefs