An extremely highly touted prep prospect, Upshaw had been unable to make much of an impact on the defensive side of the ball during his first two seasons, totaling "only" 37 total tackles and three tackles for loss during that time. Despite missing two full games (Penn State, Duke) and most of the opener against San Jose State with a high right ankle sprain, Upshaw emerged as a star at jack linebacker, recording 52 tackles, while leading the team in both tackles for loss (14.5) and sacks (seven). Upshaw was especially disruptive in Alabama's dominating 49-7 victory over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl, registering five tackles, including three for loss and two sacks to go with a forced fumble in earning Defensive MVP honors.
Scouts will have to determine where exactly Upshaw fits in an NFL scheme. Upshaw's role in this defense is essentially an edge rusher, so the name jack linebacker is a bit of a misnomer. His size, power and tackling skills will draw strong looks from 3-4 teams needing help at both inside and outside linebacker. Upshaw may not possess the agility and speed necessary to remain at linebacker for clubs operating out of a four-man front, however.
When healthy, Upshaw proved to be a dominant force last season. Another big season -- perhaps an All-American campaign -- is certainly possible if he can remain healthy. Regardless of his statistics, Upshaw's role in the NFL could ultimately be determined by how well he runs for the stopwatch and what type of fluidity he shows when asked to drop back into coverage -- whether that be for the Tide or in drills for scouts at the Combine.
Read and React: Essentially asked to pin his ears back and rush the passer as a weakside defensive end in this scheme, though he shows enough play recognition to project as a linebacker. Feels screens coming and locates the running back rather than giving himself up by pursuing the passer. Locates the ball quickly and hustles in pursuit.
Pass Defense: Not often asked to drop back into coverage in this scheme. Shows surprising fluidity when he does so, however, and keeps his head on a swivel. Reads the quarterback's eyes and breaks on the ball quickly, showing better agility than you'd expect for a player of his height/weight. May be unable to perform well in this role on a full-time basis, however, which could prompt the move to inside linebacker rather than outside at the next level.
Pass Rush: One of his best traits. Possesses good burst off the snap and as effective a swim move as you'll see in college football. Adept at whipping either arm over the head of the blocker and twisting his body around his opponent to gain clearance with remarkable efficiency. Heavy, active hands which he uses to bat away the tackle's initial punch. Good lateral agility to elude and possesses good straight-line speed for the position. Has a legitimate burst to close on the quarterback and arrives with explosion, creating potential fumble opportunities.
Run Defense: Stouter at the point of attack when run at than you'd expect given his lack of ideal size as a hybrid defensive end in this scheme. Plays with excellent pad level and has very good upper and lower body strength to anchor. Uses his impressive swim move and quick, heavy hands to slap away the blocker's attempts at getting into his chest, showing the ability to disengage quickly. Good lateral agility to slip past the blocker and set the edge. Unselfish player willing to take out blockers to create a pile and provide easy tackle opportunities for his teammates. Good effort laterally and downfield in pursuit.
Tackling: This is the area in which scouts from 4-3 teams will want to see more from Upshaw, as he's rarely put in position to make tackles in the open field. Shows good lateral agility and balance when breaking down in tight quarters to tackle elusive ball-carriers, so there is plenty of evidence to believe that he can make this transition. Good upper body strength. Capable of slowing the momentum of the ball-carrier with one arm while simultaneously engaged with a blocker, before slipping off the block for the pull-down tackle. Good effort and speed in pursuit. Physical, explosive tackler who can make the intimidating hit.
Intangibles: Established "The 41 Fund" during the spring of 2011 to help establish funds for the victims of the tornadoes that swept through the state of Alabama... Was arrested for domestic assault for an August, 2009 altercation on campus with his girlfriend, which police happened to be on hand to witness. The charges were ultimately dropped by both parties... Made his initial impression as a special teams standout, leading the Tide with 18 tackles on this unit in 2008... Highly touted prep prospect who signed with Alabama rated by some recruiting experts among the top 30 players in the country, regardless of position. Was the Alabama Class 5A Lineman of the Year, as voted by the Alabama Sports Writers Association."
Generates a lot of natural power on contact as a tackler. Is long armed, has a snap through his hips into contact and consistently exhibits the power to strike and wrap off his frame. Reads and reacts well in space, deciphers information quickly and doesn't take many false steps trying to find the ball.
He doesn't get much depth in his drop vs. the pass game. Is coordinated and keeps his feet under him, but is tighter in the hips and isn't going to hold up at the next level in space or man consistently.
Is extremely violent/powerful with his hands when attacking downhill. Consistently is able to take on blocks, disengage and make his way toward the football vs. both the run and pass game. Is at his best as a pass rusher standing up.
Looks more sudden/shifty laterally off the ball from a two point stance and can win with power on his bull rush, with his hands or side step a block and fight through contact. Plays down in most nickel situations and when run at has the power to anchor at the point vs. SEC offensive tackles.
Is violent/coordinated when asked to shed, has a good motor and can disengage consistently and make plays off his frame. Isn't as natural a pass rusher with his hand down at this stage. Is a bit inconsistent getting off the snap on time and is more of a power player only.
Does a nice job sitting into his stance, keeping his base down off the football and generating leverage for himself vs. the bull rush. But doesn't do a great job suddenly changing directions and shedding when engaged.
Loves to work the club/rip when trying to reach the corner both when down and standing up, can keep himself clean and works hard to close, but again displays only an average burst in pursuit.
Impression: I like him as a 34 outside backer who can play on the strong side, take on linemen at the point and also rush the passer. He's at his best attacking downhill, using his strong hands to disengage and always is around the football. Looks like a year one starter to me at the next level with scheme versatility."
Was impactful late in his junior season, flashing disruptive ability, closing speed and strong tackling.
Is an average athlete, and short arms and small hands are concerning, but is a solid, winning player who projects best as a left outside ’backer in a 3-4 scheme."
Instincts/Recognition: As a two-year starter, Upshaw was mostly utilized to get after the passer. Was able to line up at a variety of spots on the field without a problem. Rarely misses his assignment.
Pass Rush: Upshaw gets low coming off the line of scrimmage. As a pass rusher, Upshaw gets most of his pressure standing up cutting around the corner. Shows a strong rip move to work to the inside. Is better, though, using a bull rush to close the pocket. Difficult to block. Possesses a good burst off the line of scrimmage, but doesn't have an elite first step. Has a nice variety of moves. Often lined up on the weak side and didn't have to deal with extra blocking from a tight end.
Pursuit: Relentless. When Upshaw gets held up on blocks, he doesn't stop on the play. He's always moving his hands or legs to close on the ball. Is a fundamentally sound tackler who uses good technique and has long arms. Sinks his hips and fires through the ball carrier. Has experience playing on special teams.
Run Defense: Upshaw was lined up during his career at outside linebacker and at end. At both spots he held up well against the run. Has the strength to hold his ground and is strong enough to drive blockers back. Rarely misses on a tackle when he's playing downhill.
Strength: NFL-ready from a strength standpoint in one-on-one position. Easily gets off blockers, which is a combination of his power and hand technique. Strong throughout his frame. Has good power in his legs to drive blockers back.
Final Word: If there is an NFL team looking for the next LaMarr Woodley, they have it in Upshaw. For a 3-4 team, Upshaw could make an immediate impact on three downs. He's a powerful pass rusher who is hard to block for any period of time. As a senior, Upshaw had 18 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.
He often came up big in Alabama's biggest games, eating defensive MVP honors in the national title game against LSU. A 4-3 team will probably look at Upshaw as an end, a position he's being used at during Senior Bowl practices. He may not have the mobility required in a 4-3 linebacker.
Was arrested in 2009 on domestic violence, but the charges were dropped. Started the "41 Fund" to assist tornado relief in Alabama. Played through a sprained ankle in 2010."
Not particularly tall or athletic, but has good strength and quickness; gets to the edge in a hurry, keeps pads low and uses arms well to maintain leverage; high motor guy explodes into tackles and will track plays from behind;
Also a very good special teams player. missed 2 games in 2010 with a high ankle sprain; also was arrested in 2009 after an altercation with a woman that may have been more a misunderstanding than a serious red flag issue."
Is a smart player and hard worker, shows a willingness to be a team player and improve in a lot of areas... Has a pretty good repertoire of pass-rushing moves, can be seen making combination moves and setting up power/speed-rushing moves throughout the course of games...
Hits with a lot of force, can wrap up and drive through most ball carriers with relative ease, drives feet at contact on most occasions... Shows good discipline and instincts, rarely gets out of position and is good at maintaining containment off the edge...
Although base 3-4 teams will show interest in Upshaw due to his size and pass-rushing abilities (along with experience at the 3-4 OLB position), might be best suited with his hand in the dirt at the DE position, shows more explosion and a quicker first step from a three-point stance...
High motor and versatility make him an intriguing prospect and will likely be one of the first pass rushers off the board in the 2012 Draft.
Negatives -- Was arrested in 2009 for minor violent offense... Has great bulk to play in a 3-4 behind a two-gap scheme, but height is a slight disadvantage, can lose sight of the ball carrier behind taller defensive linemen... Has decent speed for his size, but can look rather slow and lumbering at times, especially in pursuit...
Has shorter arms than one would hope for in an edge rusher, will struggle against offensive linemen who can get into his pads at contact... Is not a quick-twitch athlete, lacks elite burst and agility, but does display a high motor and good second effort...
Does not have a ton of experience in pass coverage, has good hip flexibility for his size, but is not well-suited for man-to-man coverage and can be a liability when asked to drop into coverage... Can be a little slow off the snap, is sometimes standing completely upright surveying the offense when the ball is snapped."