If you haven’t seen our updated mock draft yet, check it out from Friday. Today we have TOJ writer Chris Gross playing Devil’s Advocate to his editor and others out there who are aren’t high on Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw.
As the 2012 NFL Draft draws closer each day, prospects continue to see their stocks rise and plummet on what seems to be an hourly basis. One player in particular who has been extremely up and down since the end of the college football season is Alabama OLB/DE Courtney Upshaw. The last time scouts saw Upshaw with pads on he was celebrating the Crimson Tide’s National Championship victory over SEC rival LSU. After that game, the idea of Upshaw falling to the Jets at the 16th pick in the draft seemed extremely far fetched. Jets fans knew what Upshaw could bring to the team, but at that point, it just did not seem realistic that New York could obtain him without trading up.
However, as weeks have progressed into months this offseason, Upshaw has seen his stock dramatically fall, with fellow OLB/DE draft prospects Quinton Coples and Melvin Ingram jumping ahead of him in just about every analyst’s rankings. As is the case for every draft, this practice is expected. Countless analysts and scouts lose sight of production and focus heavily on testing numbers during this time of year. Since Upshaw did not blow anyone away with his pro day numbers in comparison to Ingram and Coples, he has been drastically plummeting down draft boards. Several draft experts currently have him available at pick 16 in their latest mock drafts with the Jets passing on him. However, passing on Upshaw would be a horrible mistake for New York, one that could end up being Kyle Brady/Warren Sapp like.
Ingram and Coples are both solid prospects. Although the Jets would be foolish to trade up for Coples, it would not be a bad move to do so for Ingram. As we all know, Mike Tannenbaum has yet to miss on trading up for someone, so if he does it, believe that it is in good faith and knowledge. However, there is no reason for them to sacrifice draft picks if it looks like Upshaw will be available at pick 16. Ingram and Upshaw have very similar career statistics. Both had minor injuries early in their collegiate careers and did not start playing significantly until their junior and senior seasons. During both of those years Upshaw had 16.5 sacks and 104 tackles. Ingram, on the other hand, had 19 sacks while recording 75 tackles.
Statistically, these players are both very close, and both would help the Jets tremendously at OLB, the position this defense is literally starving for. While Ingram is seemingly the more athletic, pass rushing type, one cannot argue Upshaw’s overall production. In his last two seasons at Alabama, he had only 2.5 less sacks than Ingram, while recording nearly 30 more tackles. Testing numbers certainly don’t account for on the field production.
Aside from overall statistics and numbers, Upshaw possesses the greatest intangible that gets left out of draft evaluations, the intangible that puts him above every prospect at his position in this year’s draft, the ability to play big in big games. Not only does Upshaw have the big game experience, playing on arguably the best defense in the best conference in college football the past two seasons, but he has also has risen to the challenge in every big game he has played in. This past season alone, 9 of his 9.5 sacks came against SEC opponents. 2 of those were against rival Auburn, while he recorded 1 in each of the matchups against LSU, which proved to be the best two defensive games college football has seen in recent years.
Upshaw has answered the calling when its mattered the most, and this should certainly not be overlooked. The bottom line is that Upshaw has the “it” factor that only few players in every draft posses. Although trading up for Ingram would certainly not hurt the Jets, it would serve them right to wait at 16 and take Upshaw, who has played his best football on the biggest stages. Not only is his position a dire need for Gang Green, but so are his intangibles. Other than Darrelle Revis and David Harris, there were very few members of the Jets defense who came up in big moments last season. New York could certainly use another guy like this to bring back the vaunted defense that helped them to two straight AFC title games.