Each day this week leading up to Thursday’s NFL draft, we will highlight one prospect whom the Ravens could draft with the 29th overall pick. Today’s player is Alabama linebacker/defensive end Courtney Upshaw, who had 16.5 sacks for the Crimson Tide the past two seasons, including 9.5 as they won the 2011 NCAA title.
Background: Upshaw was one of the top defensive end prospects of the country coming out of high school, and he lived up to the expectations in his home state. After two years as a reserve, he got into the starting lineup as a junior. Upshaw played a key role as Alabama won a pair of national titles in his time in Tuscaloosa.
Measurables: At 6-foot-1, 272 pounds, Upshaw is on the stockier side for a defensive end, but his speed doesn't show it. He did 22 bench press reps at the scouting combine, three more than the combine-low of 19.
Deserves praise: Upshaw was one of the nation's premier pass rushers the past two seasons, and he is an ideal fit for a 3-4 defense after playing in that defense at Alabama. And he might be even better against the run. He might struggle in man coverage if asked to fill the Jarret Johnson role, but he has the pass-rushing prowess that could give the Ravens their ideal wingman for Terrell Suggs, the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Needs work: When it comes to fitting into Baltimore’s scheme, it appears that he has few negatives. He may get lost in space in coverage and he might struggle against bigger blockers as he is on the shorter size with shorter arms. Upshaw must also make sure he doesn’t pack on much more weight than he is already carrying.
Fun factoid: Upshaw played receiver in high school, which has to be a scary thought for smaller cornerbacks.
Quotable: “Upshaw is a good football player. I think people just don’t know where to play him,” ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. said in a recent conference call. “I compare him to [Steelers linebacker] LaMarr Woodley. LaMarr Woodley wasn’t even a first round draft choice himself. So this notion that everybody loved LaMarr Woodley is ridiculous; it wasn’t true. LaMarr Woodley didn’t go until the second round.”
Why he makes sense: A month ago, it seemed like a lock that Upshaw would be a top-20 draft pick, but there is talk this stock has dropped because he might not fit into some defensive schemes. He would likely be a great fit in Baltimore, as he can set the edge against the run like and also help Suggs chase quarterbacks on not just third down, but first and second, too. If he lasts to No. 29, the Ravens will seriously consider stopping his fall.