NFL Draft: Melvin Ingram vs. Courtney Upshaw

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Despite my belief and desire for the New York Jets to take Melvin Ingram in the first round, staff writer Chris Gross has remained adamant on his preference of Courtney Upshaw. Considering that he played defensive end and linebacker in college, I set Chris loose on the game film to make his argument. Here is what he came up with, followed by my rebuttal – JC

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From the surface, both players are similar. Both stand around 6’2 and weigh around 270 pounds. Their statistics are close, Ingram with a couple more sacks, Upshaw with more tackles. Yet after breaking down full game footage, I came up with the following conclusion – Courtney Upshaw is head and shoulders above Melvin Ingram as a football player.

Courtney Upshaw – I’ve previously discussed all of Upshaw’s statistics, measurables, and testing numbers, all of which may not be mind blowing, but are impressive. Some of the biggest knocks on Upshaw, and why he seems to be falling down draft boards, are that he did not test well in position drills at his pro day and that he does not possess the arm length that you look for in an elite pass rusher. On film, Upshaw shows tremendous explosion of the ball, some of the best I’ve seen out of any prospect this year. Although the assertion that he does not have elite reach is correct, he uses his hands extremely well and undoubtedly plays with the best leverage I’ve seen out of any defensive player in this year’s class. He is not hampered by his lack of reach because he makes up for it with elite technique.

Another knock that I have heard on Upshaw is that he has reached his potential, and does not have a high ceiling. This is another assertion that his game film proved false. As much as I love Upshaw’s game, there are several areas where he needs improvement, which can certainly be done under a coach like Rex Ryan. At times last season, Upshaw tended to drop his head causing him to miss tackles and lose outside contain when lined up at defensive end. There were also times when he shot too far up field on his pass rush, and ran completely by the quarterback. On three step drops, Upshaw needs to react quicker by either getting his hands up or executing a faster pass rush move. If he can improve this at the next level, he will register even more sacks and will establish himself as a premier pass rusher, as well as a fantastic all around player.

Upshaw also proved to be very physical, and most importantly, plays with an extremely high motor. This is an asset that cannot be measured, especially at the position he will be asked to play if he is drafted to the Jets. This past season against Florida, he repeatedly ran down players on pass plays at the second level after rushing the quarterback. In that same game, he also showed fantastic awareness. On one particular play that stands out, he realized he was beat off the ball, and instead of tussling with the tackle, he immediately located the quarterback, tracked where he was going with the ball, and made an interception at the line of scrimmage, proving to be a very intelligent player.

The main things about Courtney Upshaw that stand out on his game film are his physical play, his high motor, his violent hands, and his power at the point of attack. When you watch this kid on film you can just feel his confidence on the field. He knows what he is doing in every situation, and his ability to react and redirect are on another level. Upshaw is going to be an elite player in the NFL, regardless of which team he ends up on.

Melvin Ingram – Ingram’s athleticism on film is obvious. When he plays to his potential, he is fast, explosive, and strong. However, in all of the film that I watched on him, he rarely lived up to that potential. Ingram has several flaws in his game, which he was able to mask with his athleticism in college, but will not be able to do so in the NFL. Some of these flaws are very fixable by good coaching. He tends to turn his back to the sidelines at times, giving up the edge, and he does not show a wide arsenal of pass rush moves, instead relying solely on speed and strength to get to the quarterback. He also has a habit of getting lost in the shuffle, seemingly focused on making plays rather than executing his assignment. Again, these are fixes that can be made by good coaching, and if there is one defensive coach in the league that I would trust to do so, it is Rex Ryan.

However, there are some things about Ingram that even the greatest coaches may not be able to fix. He does not display a very high motor at all. At times, he tends to look lazy and disinterested. He gets pushed around on drive and down blocks way more than a person with his strength should, which tells me he does not play with good leverage, and does not come off the ball with enough authority. Ingram is also the furthest thing from a sure tackler and has trouble staying on his feet in stretches.

I tried to look for any possible reason as to what was causing these flaws that I saw, and I actually came up with a good rationale. The defense that Ingram played in at South Carolina last year seemed to ask him to do too much. Many times he seemed to be worrying about numerous jobs, which could be a result of the team giving him too many responsibilities. Perhaps this is because he was one of the only players on the defense they felt they could trust with certain tasks. However, if that is the case, it hurt his play tremendously.

Ingram also drew many more double teams than Upshaw did, primarily because he lined up inside more, and Upshaw had 3 other all Americans playing alongside him that teams needed to account for. That being said, I do not think Ingram was the best player on South Carolina’s front seven. True Freshman Jadeveon Clowney overshadowed him, and one would think that if anything, teams would be accounting for him rather than Ingram. Maybe it was the other way around, which was a cause for Clowney’s success.

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My rebuttal –

I don’t dispute many aspects of your evaluation of both players. Yet, my film analysis hasn’t changed my perspective. Courtney Upshaw is going to be a good NFL player. I saw a guy in college surrounded by immense amounts of talent who produced at a high level but a player who is better suited to spend the bulk of his reps at defensive end, not outside linebacker. I have no doubt he would improve his craft under Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine’s coaching but at his ceiling, I see a very good starting outside linebacker. A player who would be an improved version of Calvin Pace, setting the edge for the run and bringing in 6-8 sacks per year. Upshaw isn’t going to be a bust and he can start immediately, both enticing aspects of him as a prospect.

You can view Upshaw playing for Alabama, the best team in college football as both a positive and a negative. In the positive, he performed well on the biggest stage possible at his level and played against elite competition. In the negative, he was supported by a stacked lineup, including fellow soon to be first round picks Dont’a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick and Mark Barron.

Mark Ingram didn’t have any other first round picks on his defense, despite the scary potential of freshman Jadeveon Clowney and still produced at a comparable, if not higher rate than Upshaw.

Is Ingram as consistent as Upshaw? Probably not. Yet, there are two things that jump off the page and put him ahead of him, big plays and versatility. Last season, Ingram had 10 sacks to go with 2 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries and 3 touchdowns. He has a nose for the football and an ability to make something happen with it when it gets into his hands.

Ingram is going to give the Jets more than an outside linebacker. He can line up at inside linebacker, defensive end, and even defensive tackle. His ability to move around the formation will allow the Jets to get the most out of his pass rushing skills and explosiveness. I disagree about his lack of motor with Chris but do agree he needs work on being a more consistent tackler against the run. The Jets will still have Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas to slow down the run and help groom Ingram, while he is moved all over the formation by Rex to get after the quarterback.

Rex Ryan is going to see a more athletic version of Adalius Thomas who can become the double digit sack artist his defense desperately needs. Beyond that, he is going to remember what Jason Pierre-Paul did for the Giants last year and the benefit of having a player who can line-up “outside either tackle, move to tackle on third down, and rush the passer standing up inside or off the edge.

The Jets have run stopping linebackers. When they need new ones, they will be easier to find in the draft or free agency than an elite pass rusher. Now is the time for the Jets to finally get a player who can get after the quarterback so they don’t have to overextend themselves with blitzing.