2012 Senior Bowl Performance Reviews: Linebackers

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIIFebruary 1, 2012

Alabama OLB Courtney Upshaw asserted himself as a top draft prospect at the Senior Bowl.
Alabama OLB Courtney Upshaw asserted himself as a top draft prospect at the Senior Bowl.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

With the conclusion of Saturday’s game in Mobile, Ala., the 2012 Senior Bowl was officially completed, and with that, a large step in the pre-draft process for all of the players who participated, and for all the team personnel who attended.

Of course, evaluations should always be based primarily on game tape, not on performance during an All-Star game week. That said, the Senior Bowl is a great opportunity for many of the top prospects for the NFL draft to compete on a level playing field against one another, making it a great tool for scouting evaluation and a great venue for every prospect who attends to boost their stock.

After watching all of the televised coverage of practices as well as the game, thanks to NFL Network (and my Slingbox, since the basic cable here at Ohio State does not include NFL Network), I present my full evaluations of the week, based on what I could watch. Due to the comprehensiveness and length of the article, I have split the performance reviews into six positional groupings.

Due to the fact that many of the linebackers at this year’s Senior Bowl are somewhat of a group of tweeners between inside and outside linebackers, it made more sense to group inside and outside linebackers together for the purpose of this review.

Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw is worthy of being the first player drafted from this year’s Senior Bowl participants, and he backed that up with a great week in Mobile.

Upshaw lined up primarily as a defensive end during the week but will play linebacker at the next level. His best fit would be as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he's a very versatile, scheme-diverse player who has the skill set to play multiple positions.

The reason he lined up at defensive end this week was so that he would have the opportunity to truly display his pass-rushing skills, and he took advantage. Upshaw was able to beat offensive tackles in one-on-one drills more times than not, both on speed rushes around the edge and by getting leverage and powering over linemen as a bull rusher.

Upshaw plays his best in big situations, and he had a very strong performance on game day. Upshaw came up with his two tackles for loss, including one sack, making a good impression to close out a strong week. Upshaw maintains his stock as a top-10 draft prospect.

Another linebacker who made a case to be a first-round pick at the Senior Bowl was North Carolina outside linebacker Zach Brown.

Brown is a tremendously athletic linebacker, and his athleticism showed during Senior Bowl week. Brown is not the most consistent tackler, but his speed enables him to chase down runners, and he looked very solid in downfield coverage.

Brown had a strong game-day performance with five tackles, including a tackle for loss. Brown remains a second-round draft prospect in my opinion, but his upside should draw consideration in the late first round of the draft.

Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David also had a terrific week. David was a tremendously productive tackler in his two seasons with the Cornhuskers, and he displayed the same tremendous instincts and tackling ability at the Senior Bowl.

David is terrific at reading a play, then using his athleticism and tackling ability to fly in and make a sound stop. David does not have the size to be an NFL middle linebacker but looks like a very good fit to play outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. He should be a second-round draft pick.

Utah State linebacker Bobby Wagner was one of the true standouts of the game. Wagner was making plays all over the field: he made a first-quarter interception, seven tackles, a tackle for loss and tipped another pass.

In this game, Wagner showed why he was so productive in his senior season and displayed that he should be able to continue to be productive at the next level. He's undersized to be an inside linebacker, but he's athletic, a strong tackler and looked very good in pass coverage in this game.

Admittedly, Wagner is a prospect I have yet to see much of on game tape, but he looks to be at least a third-round draft pick from his Senior Bowl performance.

Florida State’s Nigel Bradham is another linebacker who showed up for a big week. Bradham has great instinctiveness, and he put that on display this week. He does a great job of reading plays and using his athleticism to get anywhere on the field and make the play.

Bradham had a sack, three tackles and an interception in the game, where he made his biggest mark. Bradham has a great chance to be a third-round draft pick following his strong showing in Mobile.

Miami’s Sean Spence's only significant deficiency is his height, at only 5’11’’, but he overcame that deficiency for a solid showing in Mobile. Spence is a great athlete and a very strong tackler—traits which he displayed by being one of the South's top defensive playmakers on game day with five tackles. Spence remains a third-round draft value.

Texas sent two linebackers, Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson, to this year’s Senior Bowl.

Robinson had the better week of the two. Robinson looked sound as both a tackler and in pass coverage and displayed both speed and lateral athleticism. Robinson would be a good choice in the fourth round of the draft.

Acho did not make a big impression this week, but he's a productive collegiate player who did end up with five tackles on game day. Acho may have been slightly overrated coming into the week with a third-round grade but is worth at least a fourth-round draft choice.

North Carolina State’s Audie Cole had a decent but unspectacular showing. He's a terrific physical specimen with a great stature for a middle linebacker, but he lacked a physical presence this week. Cole did a decent job tackling and did have a near-interception on game day but did not do much to improve his draft stock this week.

Nevada’s James-Michael Johnson capped the Senior Bowl with a game-sealing interception, which capped off a quiet but solid week for him in Mobile. He remains a fifth-round draft value.

Boise State’s Shea McClellin was a disappointment this week. McClellin, a big playmaker collegiately, did not have any big moments in Mobile.

That said, McClellin is almost strictly a 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level. A collegiate defensive end, McClellin was out of position as a 4-3 outside linebacker. For a 3-4 team, I believe McClellin could be a terrific player at the next level and is worth a third-round draft choice.

Arkansas State’s Demario Davis was a late addition to the Senior Bowl, but he failed to make much of an impression. He remains likely to go undrafted.

Thanks for reading!

Click the following links to read the remainder of my 2012 Senior Bowl performance reviews:

Quarterbacks and Running Backs

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Offensive Line

Defensive Line

Defensive Backs

For more 2012 NFL Draft coverage, follow me on Twitter @Dan_Hope.


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