Brandon Weeden vs. Courtney Upshaw: Which Rookie Faces More Pressure to Perform?

Andrea HangstFeatured Columnist IVMay 30, 2012

If you're a rookie taken early on in the NFL draft, there are certainly some high expectations for you in your first year in the league. Chances are, you're assumed to be a starter, if not in competition for a starting spot, and you're also expected to make a major contribution as quickly as possible.

For two early-round picks in the AFC North, the pressure is higher than ever this year.

The Cleveland Browns used the No. 22 pick to select quarterback Brandon Weeden. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Ravens, who traded out of the first round, selected linebacker Courtney Upshaw with the No. 35 pick in the second round.

The Browns have been looking for their franchise quarterback seemingly since they re-formed as a team in 1999, with little luck. In drafting Weeden in the first round this year, the Browns clearly sent a message that they're hoping he can be just that.

In contrast, the Ravens took Upshaw as a way to bolster the considerable talent they already have on defense. They also drafted him in hopes he could take over the vacant outside linebacker spot, which once belonged to Jarret Johnson. However, with so many talented players, it didn't seem so urgent at the time that Upshaw be an immediate, every-down starter.

Rookie Ravens LB Courtney Upshaw certainly is dealing with high expectations, but not as much as Weeden
Rookie Ravens LB Courtney Upshaw certainly is dealing with high expectations, but not as much as WeedenPatrick McDermott/Getty Images

Things changed.

In early May, Ravens starting outside 'backer and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs suffered a torn Achilles tendon that required surgery and should see him out for at least part of the 2012 season.

That leaves yet another gaping hole in the Ravens' linebacking corps and requires Upshaw to take on quite a bit more responsibility than the team had initially expected.

At least the Ravens have adequate depth to address both linebacker losses. Competing for the two starting spots alongside Upshaw are Paul Kruger, Sergio Kindle and Michael McAdoo.

With all four players talented enough to earn either of the two jobs, the pressure on Upshaw is relieved somewhat, while his chances to get increased playing time and thus more experience are increased.

Things aren't as easy for Weeden over in Cleveland. 

Weeden is in a direct quarterback competition with veteran Colt McCoy (and, I suppose, with Seneca Wallace—though he's not likely to win the starting job).

While the Ravens rely very heavily on their defense—meaning that Upshaw's position is more important to that team than to others around the league—generally speaking, there's nothing more vital to a team's success than having a quality quarterback.

If Weeden struggles, the other options aren't terribly inspiring. We've all seen what McCoy is capable of (though, to his credit, he's had just 21 starts and not much time to get in sync with his receivers) as well as Wallace.

The point of bringing Weeden on was to improve the Browns' struggling passing game. If he falters, then it's potentially yet another year when the Browns offense is incomplete.

The Browns' hopes are resting heavily on Weeden this year, and just like any first-round quarterback, he's under the microscope on every snap he takes during the offseason program. 

Baltimore doesn't need Upshaw to resuscitate anything—it simply needs him to contribute at a high level as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, the Browns need Weeden to certainly breathe new life into their offense, take the reins, be the face of the franchise and lead the team to more than just a mere handful of victories.

That's a lot of pressure—not uncommon pressure for a quarterback, but a lot of pressure nonetheless. 

Clearly, the Ravens expect much out of Upshaw this season, but the Browns hope Weeden is a major key to a marked turnaround. Thus, the pressure is far greater on the quarterback as he careens ever closer to his first start in the NFL.