You can never have enough pass rushers in the National Football League, and it’s part of Rex Ryan’s DNA to attack opposing quarterbacks. Depending on what happens in free agency with Jets veteran Bryan Thomas, there may be a starting vacancy available at outside linebacker across the formation from Calvin Pace when the draft commences in April.
“The defensive ends, outside linebackers, I think the value is probably going to be in the second round if some of these guys start to fall a little bit,” ESPN’s Todd McShay told newyorkjets.com at the combine. “But if Courtney Upshaw, another Alabama player, were to fall to 16, it would be hard to pass on him.”
As far as edge pass rushers are concerned, most draft experts believe Upshaw, North Carolina DE Quinton Coples and South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram are the top three talents in the draft.
“I do think Coples could go [early]. He’s very inconsistent on tape and much better in 2010 than he was in 2011, and doesn’t really fit the Jets’ scheme,” McShay said. “Melvin Ingram, another shorter defensive end who projects as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, I think he’ll be off the board somewhere in the top 10, top 12.
“And then Upshaw shortly thereafter, so if he does fall it would be an interesting decision whether to pass on him. He’s a little bit shorter, too, but he’s powerful, he seals the edge, he’s strong versus the run and he has a lot of power moves and shows a lot of flexibility getting to the quarterback.”
Playing the “Jack” linebacker at Alabama, the 6’1”, 272-pound Upshaw led the Crimson Tide with 8.5 sacks and his 17 tackles for loss ranked second in the Southeastern Conference and tied for 14th nationally.
“It’s a mind thing to me. Honestly, growing up playing football, I always wanted to be physical,” Upshaw told reporters at the combine. “As a young guy, always going in and throwing my shoulder into something, it was the fun part to me. Just going out and being tough and physical is something I love to do.”
Under Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide captured a national championship last season and their defense was a major reason why. Upshaw, S Mark Barron and ILB Dont’a Hightower will all play on Sundays in 2012 and on Saturdays they competed against each other in the production department.
“We have this board where the production we have in the game, our position coaches gave you points for getting a sack, tackle for loss, a stripped fumble, stuff like that, and it all adds up at the end of the year,” Upshaw said, adding that Hightower “topped the chart, Mark Barron was second and I was third.
“Those games where you really don’t have as much production as the next player, you were kind of like ‘Oh, man, my coach cheated me’ or something. He won it fair and square, but I’m proud to say I was in the top three with those top two guys, so it was a fun competition.”
Upshaw will now compete with South Carolina’s Ingram to be the first hybrid edge rusher selected on draft weekend. While Upshaw would like to get down to 270, the 6’1” Ingram dropped 12 pounds since the Senior Bowl and weighed in at 264 pounds at the combine.
An All-SEC performer for the Gamecocks, Ingram has teamed up with one of the NFL’s top young rushers to help him prepare for the draft. Von Miller, the No. 2 overall selection of the Denver Broncos in 2011 who racked up 11.5 sacks in year one, and Ingram have been working out together in California.
“Me and him, we just try to compete against each other every day,” Ingram said. “Obviously he was the Defensive Rookie of the Year, so I just try to pattern my game after him because I feel like he’s had a lot of success in the NFL.”
Last season Ingram did it all for South Carolina, leading the team with 10 sacks and 15 tackles for loss. He contributed in the scoring department, too, with three touchdowns and also picked off a pair of passes. His 21.5 career sacks are fourth in school annals.
A former high school point guard, Ingram believes he’ll help lead a pro defense.
“They’re going to get a hard worker, a passionate player of football, a leader, vocal and leading by example,” he said.
Tags: Courtney Upshaw, Crimson Tide, Indianapolis, Melvin Ingram, NFL Combine, Nick Saban, Quinton Coples, Rex Ryan, Todd McShay
Posted in Eric Allen | 83 Comments »