April 23, 2012

Upshaw: Countdown to the Draft

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 272 pounds

Position: Linebacker

Stats: Upshaw made 52 tackles last season, which ranked third on the team. He led Alabama in three defensive categories: tackles for loss (18), sacks (9.5) and quarterback hurries (11). Throw in a key interception at Florida, and Upshaw was the primary big-play man on the nation's top defense.

Projection: Mid to late first round.

Most likely destinations: Pittsburgh Steelers (24th), Baltimore Ravens (29th), New York Giants (32nd).

Scouts like: Upshaw's brute strength allows him to overwhelm bigger offensive linemen with a no-nonsense, straight-ahead pass rush. Scouts say the senior from Eufaula is always around the ball and is one of the few players in the draft with potentially elite pass rush ability. He is tough against the run, something pass-rushing linebackers sometimes lack.

Scouts don't like: Upshaw's athletic ability gives him impressive straight-ahead speed, but his change-of-direction skills are more in question. Can he beat offensive tackles around the edge, or will he only be able to rush through them? In terms of his versatility, can he play in a 4-3 defense? He is the ideal size for a rush linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, but is undersized for a 4-3 defensive end.

Offseason stock: Upshaw was very impressive Senior Bowl week in Mobile. Bench pressed 225 pounds 22 times at the NFL Combine. He missed Alabama's first Pro Day with an injury. On Pro Day II, he turned in 40-yard dash times of 4.76 and 4.78 seconds, but reviews from scouts were mixed on his performance in other drills. He also was disappointed in his Pro Day weigh-in, slightly heavy at 279 pounds.

ESPN's Todd McShay says: "Not an elite athlete, but a great football player. I keep watching the tape, and I know that he doesn't have the great explosiveness off the ball. I know he's not an elite athlete. I know he doesn't really have that burst around the edge, but the guy is always around the ball. He's tough, he's physical, and he's strong versus the run."

The bottom line: Projections vary, with some believing he could go as high as No. 16 to the New York Jets, and others projecting him as one of the first picks of the second round. Pass rush skills are a draft-day premium, however, and that makes Upshaw unlikely to fall out of round one.

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