Courtney Upshaw has enjoyed a wonderful senior season and overall career at Alabama, winning two National Championships during his time with the Tide. However, it has never been very easy for Upshaw who has had to work to get to be where he is now. Upshaw came to Alabama as a highly rated recruit and was regulated to special teams during his first season with Alabama. Here Upshaw flashed potential by leading the kickoff coverage team in tackles, while also seeing time as a reserve linebacker. In 2009, Upshaw ran into trouble off the field after being arrested for domestic assault charges on campus with his girlfriend, although charges were later dropped. During the 2009 season Upshaw finally cracked the starting lineup against Kentucky where he had 15 total tackles, four quarterback hurries, and returned a fumble for a key touchdown. From here on Upshaw never looked back and went on to enjoy a similarly successful game in what had to be considered the game of his life in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game, registering one sack and recovering a fumble to seal the game. The 2010 season would prove to be Upshaw’s coming out party in which he lead the team in both tackles for a loss (14.5) and sacks (7) even after missing a couple of games due to an early season ankle injury. Against rival Auburn, who would go on to win the National Championship under Cam Newton, Upshaw was able to account for 10 total tackles, 3 sacks, and two forced fumbles. In the Capital One Bowl Game later that season against Michigan State, Upshaw once again brought everything he had and ended the day with 5 tackles, 3 for a loss, two sacks, and a forced fumble, in a game in which Alabama held the Spartans to -48 yards rushing. This season Upshaw returned to the Crimson Tide and delivered his most memorable season to date. Upshaw registered 9.5 sacks, 52 tackles and even collected an interception against Florida in which he returned for a touchdown. Upshaw would once again deliver on the big stage, in which he registered 12 total tackles and two sacks against an LSU team they would face in a #1 vs. #2 showdown during the regular season and once again in the BCS National Championship Game. For his performance in the National Title Game Upshaw went on to become the Defensive Player of the Game, as part of a Crimson Tide defense that allowed the LSU offense to cross the 50 yard line only once in the entire game. There is little doubting just how much Courtney Upshaw has meant to Nick Saban and the Alabama team during his collegiate career as he was able to produce in some of the biggest games of his life to date. Let’s take a closer look to see what sets Courtney Upshaw apart from the other players at his position.
Courtney Upshaw stands 6-2 272 lbs and appears to have filled out his frame for the most part. He is a little on the short side to play at defensive end in a 4-3 but has good size and overall girth to play outside linebacker in a 3-4. Upshaw has some length but appears to have a stockier more compact build to his body. He has a pretty thick upper body with good size, and his lower half appears to be equally as balanced as he fills out his frame nicely, showing nice size and overall bulk to man the position of 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level.
Courtney Upshaw shows very good discipline and is a smart player who understands his assignments. He shows good patience and trusts his eyes and reads his keys very well. One of the things he does better than most is setting the edge and forcing the play back into the teeth of the defense. He does a nice job of keeping outside contain by engaging his man with the proper shoulder to help turn the play back inside and dis-allow players to get around him on the edge. In pursuit Upshaw does a great job of hustling and working on the backside to take away cut-back lanes, showing the discipline and motor he possesses as a player. Instinctually Upshaw is very good at trusting his eyes as he shows the ability to sniff out screens, counters, and quarterback draw type plays while very rarely crashing down and breaking contain on quarterback reads or options.
While not overly athletic Upshaw has very good quickness and he shows an impressive ability to accelerate and use his closing speed to get after the quarterback or chase ball-carriers down from behind. His short area quickness is special and he works very well in confined areas. Courtney Upshaw also possesses active feet and shows good overall coordination and fluidity as he seems to play balanced and in control at all times. Upshaw’s change of directions skills are only above average and he does a good job of breaking down and moving laterally to get after the ball-carrier and pursue/flow to the football. I really enjoy how well Upshaw uses his eyes and how he always keeps his head and eyes up to find the football. Very rarely will Upshaw take mis-steps and he takes pretty solid angles to the ball.
Courtney Upshaw is a very intimidating defender who can deliver violent hits capable of jarring the ball loose and leaving opponents wondering what area code they are in. His hits can be heavy and he carries a big stick when he has the opportunity to make a big hit on a ball-carrier. This power and strength as a tackler is very evident, however I would like to see Upshaw wrap up more often as well as refrain from leaving his feet and launching. These type of hits and lack of form will get him in trouble at times in the NFL as he has a tendency to throw his shoulder into his man instead of wrapping up. When Upshaw does leave his feet he usually only does so when he knows he has a stationary target and his man is more or less a sitting duck. Despite this I would like to see him form tackle more often, although he usually does a good job breaking down and taking his man to the ground, but this is definitely an area he can improve.
Due to his versatility the Crimson Tide liked to use Upshaw near the line of scrimmage very often and very rarely was he asked to drop back into coverage and read the quarterbacks eyes. Upshaw does show some ability in this area however as he was able to collect an interception this season in which he returned for a score. Upshaw is a bit stiff and his overall athleticism is lacking and somewhat questionable at this point. He’s not a guy who is going to wow you with his coverage skills and it will be interesting to see how his future defensive coordinator uses him. Upshaw is a much better athlete moving forward and while I do question his ability to drop into coverage and cover an area, Upshaw presents too much value as a pass rusher and run stuffer to bypass simply on this one area of question.
Point of Attack:
This is an area of Upshaw’s game that makes him incredibly effective and tough to keep contained. We have already discussed how well a job Upshaw does at setting the edge and keeping outside contain by attacking and engaging with the correct shoulder, however there are other things that make Upshaw special in this category. Upshaw will struggle when he allows opponents to engage him and get to his body, but this has proved to be much easier said than done. Courtney Upshaw has incredibly active, fast, and violent hands capable of shedding and slapping away defenders who try to get their hands on him. These superior hand to hand combat skills make Upshaw a very difficult player to contain. Upshaw is also very strong at the point of attack and is able to hold his position and control his man by playing with great leverage and superior hand placement. This skill allows him to set the edge with relative ease while other players can effectively flow to the football and make plays for the defense. I have also enjoyed watching Courtney Upshaw keep defenders at bay when they try to cut or chop block him. Here Upshaw does a nice job of using proper hand placement to disengage from the block and keep himself clean and alive to make a play. The other thing Upshaw does an incredibly good job at is locking out his elbows and getting good arm extension once engaged to keep defenders from getting to his body and creating space between him and his man to work. This skill is important because it makes it easier for Upshaw to disengage from his man whenever he needs or wants to. Overall this may be Upshaw’s most effective area as he shows a combination of skills that make him incredibly hard to get a hand on. Upshaw has functional strength and his ability to hold the point and slip blocks is a very important quality to have as a 3-4 OLB
This is another area of Upshaw’s game that he has proven to be extremely effective at. Although he doesn’t possess an elite first step Upshaw does show some impressive burst and explosion off the edge. Upshaw is also pretty good at contorting his body and dipping underneath his opponents shoulder before turning a tight angle around the corner. Here, Upshaw’s short stature helps him to a degree as he is able to keep his pad level low and bend the edge by playing with good overall balance and nice ankle flexibility. Once around the corner, Upshaw has very good closing speed and can accelerate to the football very efficiently. Courtney Upshaw also times up the snap well and gets a good enough jump off the line to threaten the edge. One of the moves Upshaw is most effective at is known as the up and under. Here Upshaw initially attacks the tackle or ends outside shoulder with his speed before coming back under with a powerful rip move to knock his man off balanced and beat him inside. He is allowed to do this not only because of his impressive hand work but also because of his nice combination of speed and power. Upshaw is incredibly effective at keeping his man off balanced and does a very nice job of setting his opponent up for his pass rush moves. Upshaw has also shown some ability to turn speed to power and will flash the ability to collapse the pocket from time to time and get a good push up field. These skills all make Upshaw in incredibly scary player to defend and should make him a staple for whichever team drafts him as a pass rush specialist, who can become a three down linebacker with coaching and experience dropping into coverage.
Courtney Upshaw did have one off the field altercation during his collegiate career but from everything I have found he seems to be a pretty good kid. He set up a fund in 2011 to help with aid for those affected by the tornado that tore through Tuscaloosa and left many devastated and/or homeless. Nick Saban speaks highly of Upshaw as an athlete and person and it is easy to see he has taken to coaching to continue and develop his overall game. He is considered by many to be the leader of the Alabama defense and is obviously a team player by the way he plays the game and stays disciplined. I also enjoyed his speech after he was rewarded with Defensive MVP after their 21-0 drubbing of LSU in the National Championship Game. This speech showed me that Courtney Upshaw is a pretty well-spoken and passionate dude who showed some humbleness in proclaiming that the Defensive MVP trophy belonged to the entire defense not just him. As with most prospects out there, Upshaw will have to clear up some off field concerns and will need to answer some things that happened in his past. However, if people can look past this one instance and see how much he has grown and matured, then he should do just fine in interviews and gain the trust of people making the final decisions.
Courtney Upshaw should see his stock continue to rise as we make our way through the draft process. He is the premier 3-4 outside linebacker prospect in this draft which will make him a highly valued man come draft day. His skills as a rusher and against the run are very good and while he is still developing his coverage skills I think his other skills mask this liability to a degree. With the recent success of players like Clay Matthews, Brooks Reed, and Von Miller, Courtney Upshaw should be a player in particularly high demand. His performances on the big stage and in big games is an incredibly good and positive thing to see and I’m sure they won’t go unnoticed by NFL personnel men. For this reason I project his stock will continue to climb and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him go in the Top 10.