Courtney Upshaw was widely considered to be one of the best 3-4 outside linebacker prospects coming out of the 2012 NFL draft, an opinion I don't share after watching him struggle to drop back in coverage in the on-field drills at the NFL Combine.
Upshaw didn't participate in any of the measurable drills outside of the bench press, which he put up only 22 times, below average for a man of his supposed strength. He had previously stated that he would be running and jumping, but for reasons unknown decided to forgo the drills at the last minute.
Upshaw did participate in the on-field drills, which is where his Achilles heel revealed itself in alarming fashion.
When going through the drop-back drills to gauge potential coverage abilities, Upshaw was by far the stiffest linebacker in the entire group. When asked to change direction, Upshaw looked more awkward than my two-year-old son.
ESPN.com's Rich Cimini said that Mike Mayock and Willie McGinest noted Upshaw was "a bit tight in the hips," during NFL Network's live coverage of the event, an understatement of epic proportions.
This reveals what we should have already known about Upshaw's game. He is going to be a liability in pass-coverage.
Nick Saban rarely asked him to do so at Alabama, which should have been the first clue.
No doubt Upshaw will be a terrific run defender, as long as he stays disciplined. If he gets out of position in the NFL, his athletic limitations won't allow him to recover, and running backs will be able to zip right past him.
What this shows me is that Upshaw will likely be better suited as a defensive lineman than as a linebacker. He isn't a three-down player as a linebacker due to his inability to turn and cover. Linebackers who can't play three downs should never be taken in the first round.
When compared to the other top defensive linemen coming out, I would have to say that Upshaw ranks lower than Melvin Ingram, Quinton Coples, Whitney Mercilus and Nick Perry.
Before the combine, I had considered Upshaw to be a top-10 pick in the 2012 NFL draft. After his workout on the field, I don't see him being taken inside the top 20.
Upshaw can improve his stock with a strong showing at his March 7 pro day. Until he proves otherwise, however, I don't see him as a viable option to play outside linebacker in the NFL.