Saturday, March 17, 2012

Note to A.J. Smith: Stay away from Courtney Upshaw

During the NFL draft season, many fans across the country become emotionally attached to prospects. Since the draft has gained more and more coverage and analysis over the last two decades, there are several armchair general managers believing they know all the answers when it comes to improving their favorite teams. It can be unhealthy at times, as fans could have their hearts broken when their teams don't make the "right" picks during the draft. Nevertheless, fans will always lust for certain prospects joining their teams and becoming future Hall of Famers.

One of the most coveted prospects by San Diego Chargers fans this offseason has been Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw. After watching Upshaw in a few games last season, and reading about him over the last few months, I can't help but struggle tremendously to get behind the idea of adding him to San Diego's roster.

In 2011 the Crimson Tide's national championship-winning defense featured four players (Upshaw, safety Mark Barron, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, and inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower) expected to be picked in the first round. The 6-2, 271-pound Upshaw had a productive year, finishing with 9.5 sacks, 18 tackles for losses, and two forced fumbles. Those numbers, along with playing for a national championship team, have led many to believe Upshaw will be a difference-maker in the NFL. But whenever I hear someone state that Upshaw is the player the Chargers should select in the first round, I have to respectfully ask: Have you ever actually seen him play?

One draft expert who has taken the time to pore over prospects' game film has been Jonathan Bales of About two months ago Bales wrote a scouting report on Upshaw, stating the Crimson Tide linebacker is an overrated prospect who doesn't possess the skills to warrant a first-round selection. Bales, who mentioned he watched five of Upshaw's games from last season, went into great detail, and it was very informative when he stated the following:

I’ll just start by saying it: I think Upshaw is very overrated. His biggest strength, versatility, is negated by the fact that he doesn’t play any single position that well.  At 6’2″, 271 pounds, he’s too large to play as an inside backer.  In today’s pass-happy NFL, I would send Barry Church out there at inside linebacker before Upshaw.

Upshaw’s height, however, is a major concern as an edge rusher.  With an arm length just a hair over 31 inches, Upshaw will have major problems fighting off larger offensive tackles.  I see some issues already in college, as Upshaw has trouble getting off of blocks.  This leads to very poor run defense when offenses run right at him.

Bales did say Upshaw is an intelligent player with a very high motor. Other than that, however, Bales can't find many other positives, and he, like I do, has a hard time understanding why Upshaw is considered a first-round talent:

Still, Upshaw’s weaknesses are large and abundant enough that I cannot figure out how he’s a “surefire” first-round pick.  A short, heavy linebacker who gets blown off the ball at times and possesses a good but not great pass rush repertoire isn’t what I would be seeking in the first round.  Yes, he has versatility to play a few positions, but a player with second or even third-round talent at a few positions doesn’t equate to a first-round draft pick.

As far as I'm concerned, the Chargers should stay away from Upshaw in Rounds 1 and 2.

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