2012 NFL Draft: Why Courtney Upshaw Will Be the Draft's Biggest Steal

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIIApril 27, 2012

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 22:  Dont'a Hightower #30 and Courtney Upshaw #41 of the Alabama Crimson Tide react after a defensive stop against the Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 22, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The first round of the 2012 NFL draft was full of puzzling selections, but the most puzzling decision of the entire first round was who was not selected.

Four players among my top 20 players in the draft class are still available Friday heading into the second round.

That group includes Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, Georgia offensive lineman Cordy Glenn and Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy.

It is surprising that any of them are still available, but the most stunning player to still be available is Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw.

Among my top 300 prospects for the draft, Upshaw ranks No. 5 overall, ahead of many the draft’s top selections, including No. 3 overall pick Trent Richardson and No. 5 overall pick Justin Blackmon. Upshaw has the skill set to be one of the best defensive players in the entire NFL, and he would have been a steal outside of the top 15 picks, let alone in the second round.

It is understandable why Upshaw may not be as high on NFL draft boards as he was on my board. He is not an elite athlete for a pass-rushing linebacker, and teams that run the 4-3 defensive scheme may not have seen a true fit for Upshaw in their defense.

That said, while Upshaw’s best fit is as a 3-4 outside linebacker, his versatility is actually one of his best traits. Upshaw displayed that versatility at Alabama, as he spent time lining up at both outside and inside linebacker, as well as at defensive end.

While Upshaw’s athletic measurables are subpar for a pass-rushing outside linebacker, he has great size at 272 pounds, and there may be no defensive player in this draft class with better game tape.

Upshaw does a tremendous job of coming up with big plays in big situations, and will emerge as an immediate playmaker for whichever defense he is drafted onto.

Alabama had the best defense in all of college football last year, a defense that led the Crimson Tide to a national championship.

Upshaw was the best player on that defense, a defense that included three other first-round draft picks: strong safety Mark Barron, who was selected No. 7 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who went No. 17 overall to the Bengals and inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who went No. 25 overall to the Patriots.

He led the team with 18 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks, and ranked third with 52 total tackles. He also had two forced fumbles and an interception, the latter which he returned for a 45-yard touchdown.

Of all 2012 draft prospects who are classified as hybrid pass-rushers, Upshaw is the best. That was ignored by NFL teams on Thursday night, as five others were drafted ahead of him.

The first hybrid pass-rusher selected was West Virginia’s Bruce Irvin, by the Seattle Seahawks at No. 15 overall, which may have been the worst pick of the first round. Irvin is an athletic pass-rusher, but he is a situational pass-rusher only who has absolutely no value as a run defender.

One theory on Upshaw falling to the second round is that teams may be concerned about his character as a result of a 2009 arrest for domestic violence.

While this is a legitimate concern, he has no incidents since. Meanwhile, Irvin is not even close to being the complete player that Upshaw is, yet he has had multiple arrests, including an arrest in March for destruction of property.

Three of the selections were very justifiable, as they were all very good values. South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram was selected by the San Diego Chargers at No. 18 overall, Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus by the Houston Texans at No. 26 overall and USC’s Nick Perry went to the Green Bay Packers at No. 29 overall.

All three of them were very good value at those selections, and were well worth first-round picks, so it was reasonable for each of them to be selected ahead of Upshaw.

The other two hybrid pass-rushers selected ahead of Upshaw, Boise State’s Shea McClellin and Syracuse’s Chandler Jones, are also puzzling.

While McClellin is an athletic hybrid pass-rusher who is good fit to move back to outside linebacker, he was drafted by the Chicago Bears at No. 19 overall, a team that runs a 4-3 defensive scheme and does not fit him particularly well.

Jones has high upside with a long frame and athletic ability, but he was not particularly productive or impressive at Syracuse, and should not have enticed the New England Patriots to trade up to No. 21 overall.

Nonetheless, the history is what it is: No team liked Courtney Upshaw enough to draft him in the first round. That said, the team who does finally draft him on Day 2 will be getting a tremendous value.

Regardless of what scheme he is drafted into, Upshaw is a hard-working player and a playmaker who should emerge as not only one of the top players on his team’s defense, but one of the best players league-wide at his position.

As a second-round pick, any team should consider selecting Upshaw, regardless of need.

Upshaw can help any team in the National Football League. He is a skilled pass-rusher, very good tackler in space and will become an immediate playmaker and versatile contributor of a defensive front seven.

Thanks for reading!

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


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