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Dallas Cowboys Potential 2012 Draft Pick: Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama | The DC Times

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Dallas Cowboys Potential 2012 Draft Pick: Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama

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Jonathan Bales

The 2012 draft season is here!  After the Pats dismantle the G-Men in a couple weeks, we can put the forgettable 2011 season behind us and concentrate on how Dallas will refuel for 2012.  My Potential Draft Picks Series is back, and I’m kicking it off with a player in whom we know the Cowboys have some interest.  Dallas already met with Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw at the Senior Bowl, and he has versatility to play a few positions at which the ‘Boys are weak.  Here are my thoughts on Upshaw and his potential fit in Dallas. . .

Scouting Report

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.

Upshaw is excellent in pursuit, however, frequently chasing down backside runs and bubble screens.  He’s a high-motor player who has really, really good play recognition.  I watched five games of his and didn’t see him misread a single play.  He stays in great position at all times, maintaining leverage to make plays.  He sets the edge nicely, which is important for a 3-4 outside backer.

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.


Upshaw is going to be a first-round selection, and he figures to go around Dallas’ No. 14 pick.  The Cowboys have massive holes in the secondary, but a lot of that can be fixed with a superior pass rush.  If Rob Ryan & Co. are thinking along those lines, Upshaw will probably be on their radar.  I agree the team could benefit from an upgrade over Anthony Spencer, but I don’t think Upshaw is the answer.  In my view, he’s Spencer with worse run-stopping ability.

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28 Responses to Dallas Cowboys Potential 2012 Draft Pick: Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama

  1. Jeremiah says:

    Appreciate the honest assessment. So many writers are touting every player as the next stud in the NFL.

    I’m not an expert but Brockers seems to be best guy to hope for at our pick. I’m hoping the Boys don’t pick Kirkpatrick if he “falls” to him.

    Maybe there are a couple of Alabama players getting first round grades because of how ridiculously good the team played defense last year. Ideally we get a grab a corner in rounds two or three.

  2. valmont says:

    elvis dumervil, james harrison, lamar woodley …

    what do these players have in common?

    ok, I’ll save you the suspense. they were all short, not particularly highly drafted, players who are fantastic football players.

    I have no idea about Upshaw, I’m waiting for the combine, but this height thing is pure nonsense.

    show me some evidence that height matters … i.e. some evidence that shows that shorter players consistently under-perform expectations. I bet you’d find the opposite. I’d bet that if you looked at where relatively shorter players were drafted they’ve outperformed the career expectation for their draft position.

  3. valmont says:

    jonathan probably would have been right on board with the brain trust that drafted Anthony Spencer over Lamar Woodley. Sure Woodley led the Big 10 in sacks and had a 38″ vertical while Spencer had a 32.5″ vertical and 3 sacks his senior year … but Spence has long arms!

  4. Jeremiah–Thanks. . .I try to disregard conventional wisdom as much as possible prior to giving my assessment. I too believe some Alabama players are getting rated too highly.

    Valmont–It isn’t JUST because Upshaw has short arms that I think he doesn’t project as a great pass-rusher. I’m actually with you on generally taking shorter, “fatter,” slower players who can just play football, as they are consistently undervalued. As in the “Moneyball” era of baseball, football has seen a shift in valuing game tape over Combine numbers, but that trend hasn’t completely hit home yet.

    Some players I rated much higher than others last year included Graig Cooper, Dion Lewis, Kendall Hunter, Ben Ijalana, Justin Houston, Brandon Harris and Marcus Gilchrist, and all of them were bumped up because of film and nothing else.

    However, when I watch Upshaw, I don’t see a first-round pick. Maybe I didn’t see enough games or maybe I just screwed up, but I see a player who gets blown back at times, doesn’t use his hands well, and doesn’t possess any sort of elite explosion off of the ball. Can he be a productive NFL player? Of course. But is he a Pro Bowl-type pass rusher? I don’t think so.

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  6. Tim Truemper says:

    From viewing the video I can see much of what Jonathan references to. Whether that can be improved by more coaching (but hell, he was coached a Bama) is up for debate. Upshaw seems to be a good player within a great defense and a great scheme. Does this translate to sure elite level pro? Well, only time will tell. I’m keener on the guy from South Carolina myself who has more pass rushing skills (name currently eludes me).

  7. Rick says:

    We’re just going to have to agree to disagree, here.

    Lol@ all of the fanboys blindly agreeing; anyone seen Jonathan’s 2011 Big Board?

  8. valmont says:

    my only point is that height is probably meaningless.

    his short arms were your first criticism so it seemed like that was the #1 negative.

    regarding Upshaw, like I said, I don’t know. I don’t agree with all of your assessment. In fact, you don’t seem to agree with your assessment.

    on one hand you say Upshaw has short arms which stops him from getting off blocks and sometimes gets blown off the ball.

    on the other hand you say he always plays with good leverage, sets the edge and is good position.

    those two statements seem inconsistent.

    personally, I see more of the later. A very stout OLB who can stuff runs (unsurprising considering the build of his lower body).

    will he be able to rush the passer? don’t know. I’m waiting for the combine. i’d like to see if he’s got elite explosion like Woodley (38″ vertical jump).

  9. Vince_Grey says:

    As some who lives in the heart of Dixie and watches SEC football religiously, I can say taking `Bama players high is, historically, a real crap shoot. They’re so talented as a team, and so well coached, it’s difficult to tell what NFL level talent a guy really has.

    I’m not saying he’s not worth the pick (yet) but I am leaning that way mainly because of the hype. I WILL say that I disagree he’s too heavy/slow to play ILB in a 3/4. In fact, at his height and weight that would seem to be THE spot for him. His pass rushing ability, or lack thereof, does concern me. If they guy had serious rush skills, you’d think Saban would have tried to exploit that more.

    Anyway, bottom line, let’s see his combine workouts first.

  10. john coleman says:

    Valmont- There are exceptions to every rule. However, I too feel that heigth matters. Let’s look at Jason Pierre Paul. I know he is a rush end, but at 6-6 and a condor wingspan, he reaches balls(bats them down). Long arms and heigth also help in reaching ball carriers as well as fighting off blocks from long armed tackles.

    I agree with the assessment of the player that JB gives. Explosion and closing speed are huge. Also as mentioned by several here, he is already in a pro style D, with pro coaching, against college players who will never be stars in the NFL. I actually like Hightower better than Upshaw. He has great size at ILB, but speed is a question.

    As things play out, I might change, but for now I like Brockers or Still at 14. Trade down and a host of others come into play. Dontari Poe has beast size and would not be bad in the later 20’s. I feel the lack of a true NT has hampered this 3-4 from the beginning. All good 3-4 teams have a hog. I would even be willing to part with Ratliff, unless he can play DE. With his stats, making the ProBowl is laughable. Age and teams are catching up quick with him.

  11. Tim–Melvin Ingram? I will look at him in more depth today.

    Rick–Let’s take a look! http://dallascowboystimes.com/2011/04/final-2011-nfl-draft-big-board-position-rankings-and-top-100/
    Players on whom I was high: Justin Houston (big hit), Ben Ijalana, Rodney Hudson, Will Rackley, Taiwan Jones, Graig Cooper, Dion Lewis, Kendall Hunter, Tyrod Taylor, Phil Taylor, Muhammad Wilkerson, Martez Wilson, Brandon Harris, Marcus Gilchrist
    Players on whom I was low: Danny Watkins, Nate Solder (appears to be miss), Austin Pettis, Vincent Brown, Torrey Smith, Jonathan Baldwin, Ryan Williams, Mark Ingram, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Andy Dalton, Ryan Mallett

    Let’s go back to 2010: http://dallascowboystimes.com/2010/04/your-ultimate-2010-nfl-draft-guide/8/
    Players I loved: Colt McCoy, Ryan Upchurch, Aaron Hernandez, Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Tony Moeaki, Mike Iupati, Maurkice Pouncey, Brandon Graham, Jason Pierre-Paul, Jason Worilds, Earl Thomas, Kyle Wilson, Akwasi (Woops?)
    Players I hated: Ryan Mathews, Charles Brown, Daryl Washington, Jerry Hughes

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  13. Rick says:

    Some hits and some misses. It’s a bit early to judge 11, though I’d say you nailed Taylor, Wilkerson, and Houston and missed on Solder, Dalton, and T. Smith. 2010 I think can be judged.

    Hit (10): Hernandez, J. Graham, Gronk, Moeaki, Iupati, Pouncey, JPP, Earl Thomas, Matthews, Brown, Hughes

    Miss (10): McCoy, Upchurch, B. Graham, AOA

    Hard to judge Wilson and Worilds, since they barely play. I think both can be effective players.

    It just bothers me how you can have an against-the-grain opinion and EVERYONE agrees with you in the comments section. I hate mob mentalities.

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