Able to sink his hips/shoulder to get leverage on tackles
Nice repertoire of moves
Ready to play immediately in the NFL
Has the strength to anchor and hold his ground vs. the run
Physical run defender who holds the edge
Can take over games with splash plays
Played well against elite competition
Good pursuit skills
First-step quickness is not special
Could struggle in space
Maybe too heavy to play 3-4 outside linebacker in some schemes
Lacks the speed and agility to drop into coverage
Height hurts ability to play in the 4-3
Summary: Upshaw is a tough prospect to evaluate, and there is a wide array of opinions on what type of position he should play in the NFL. At Alabama, Upshaw was one of the top defenders in the SEC over the past few seasons. The Crimson Tide defense fed off him applying pressure to quarterbacks and being a tough run defender in the tackle box.
As a junior in 2010, Upshaw broke into the starting lineup and led the Crimson Tide with seven sacks. He also contributed 52 tackles with 14.5 tackles for a loss and four forced fumbles. Upshaw was even better this past year, making 52 tackles with 9.5 sacks, 18 tackles for a loss, an interception and two forced fumbles. He impacted the game even more than his stats illustrate.
Upshaw had dominant performances versus Florida, Arkansas, Auburn and both games against LSU. The Tigers have some quality pro prospects at tackle, but Upshaw had his way with them twice. In the first game, Upshaw had only one sack but nearly notched a few more with hits on the quarterback. In the rematch, Upshaw had seven tackles with a sack. He was a playmaker who led the way for the Alabama defense in its overwhelming domination of LSU's offense.
Upshaw had a great performance at the Senior Bowl. He caused murmurs from the crowd at the weigh-in. The muscular Upshaw checked in at 6-foot-1, 273 pounds. That was heavier than expected, but he carries that weight extremely well, and honestly, looks like a bear. On the field, it is amazing how much speed and maneuverability Upshaw had at that weight. He used his natural pad level, power, weight and speed to routinely beat offensive linemen with bull rushes and speed around the corner. Upshaw won a lot of battles against Florida State offensive tackle Zebrie Sanders. A knee issue caused him to miss a lot of the Combine workouts, but since then, he has performed at his Pro Day.
There is a lot of debate among pundits about Upshaw. He is not a mobile linebacker who plays well in space and can drop deep into coverage. Upshaw has to attack the backfield and play downhill. As a result, some feel that he doesn't fit all 3-4 defenses and would be better off as a 4-3 defensive end. Upshaw could still play as a 3-4 outside linebacker, he just needs to be used correctly. His pro team could also have Upshaw drop 10-12 pounds to improve his speed and agility.
After watching a lot of tape of Upshaw, the opinion here is that he will be a serious pass-rushing threat in the NFL. Upshaw can stay in a 3-4 defense and could provide a big impact as an edge rusher. He has developed pass-rushing moves with a bull rush and rip move. He is a powerful, physical defender who can be a violent force. He is a devastating hitter who is capable of knocking out the quarterback. Despite the debate on how he fits best, Upshaw has earned a first-round grade.
Player Comparison: LaMarr Woodley. Upshaw's game is similar to Woodley (6-2, 265) or Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. Like them, Upshaw's strength is pass rushing off the edge. Upshaw may not be as good athletically at dropping into coverage like those two Pro Bowlers. As an edge rusher, He could turn into a pro who has a similar impact as Woodley or Suggs.
NFL Matches: New York Jets, San Diego, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, New England, Green Bay
The earliest that Upshaw may go would be to the Jets with 16th-overall pick. They badly need an edge rusher, and Upshaw would be a good scheme fit. The same goes for the Chargers at No. 18, and many believe that San Diego won't pass on him if he reaches its pick.
The Bears and Lions are both looking for help at defensive end and could consider Upshaw. The Steelers need to get younger in their front seven, and he would be a nice fit. They have more pressing needs, but if Upshaw makes it to their pick he could be too good to pass up. The Patriots and Packers both have to upgrade their edge rushers, and Upshaw is a ideal fit for either team. New England and Green Bay would probably have to trade up to get him.