Scouting Courtney Upshaw

The Jets made another roster move last week, acquiring defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw. Today, we're going to break him down in detail.

The 28-year old Upshaw is listed at 6-foot-2 and 272 pounds and was a second round pick out of Alabama in 2012. He started 51 games and won a Super Bowl in his four years with the Ravens, then joined the Falcons with whom he's been mostly a rotational lineman. He has just seven sacks in his six NFL seasons, plus two more in postseason play.


Upshaw was a highly sought-after high school recruit having starred at defensive end. He ended up with Alabama, where he played a rotational role over his first two years, starting just one game and registering 37 tackles and a sack.

In his junior year, he became a full-time starter and racked up 52 tackles, seven sacks and a career-high four forced fumbles. As a senior, he again had 52 tackles and added a career high 9.5 sacks as well as winning the defensive MVP award in the BCS title game.

Upshaw was regarded as a mid-first rounder throughout much of the pre-draft process, but his stock slid after some underwhelming workouts. The Ravens picked him up with the third selection of the second round.

As a rookie, Upshaw started nine games and recorded a career high 60 tackles as the Ravens ended up winning the Super Bowl. Over the next three seasons, Upshaw started 42 of 48 games, averaging 41 tackles per season. He had five sacks in four years when he moved on from the Ravens at the end of his rookie contract.

Upshaw spent 2016 with the Atlanta Falcons and made the conversion from outside linebacker to defensive end and then to defensive tackle. He came on strong towards the end of the season, starting five games and ending up with 24 tackles and a sack. The Falcons reached the Super Bowl, losing to New England, but Upshaw was re-signed at the end of the season.

Last year he was mainly a reserve and was held back by some injuries. He ended up with nine tackles and a sack.

The Jets have worked out Upshaw a few times in recent years and opted to sign him after he attended their latest mini-camp on a tryout basis.

Let's take a closer look at what Upshaw brings to the table, divided into categories. In the gifs included in this article, Upshaw was wearing #91.


Upshaw opted not to do a full workout at the scouting combine and then underwhelmed at his pro day workout. He was timed officially at 4.74 for the 40-yard dash, although reports at the time indicated some teams had him in the 4.8 range. His other numbers for explosiveness and agility were below average for an edge defender and his total of 22 bench reps at the combine was only average:

At that time, Upshaw was 272 pounds which continues to be his listed weight to this day. However, as you'll see from the gifs in this article when he was in Atlanta, there's no way that's his current weight.

It was previously reported that he got out of shape and was up to 295 while still playing as an outside linebacker with the Ravens, although he eventually got back into shape. However, it seems likely that he's more in the range of 290 or so now.


As already touched upon, Upshaw was an outside linebacker with the Ravens but has since converted to defensive tackle. Presumably the Jets have brought him in to play that role, but as they do have a need for edge defenders, we can't rule out the possibility of him also contributing there.

With both teams, Upshaw was used in a variety of ways, lining up inside, outside, on and off the line and with his hand in the dirt or standing up. He still played some reps where he lined up outside the tackle with Atlanta, albeit that there was often another pass rusher outside him. In Baltimore he would sometimes match up in the slot or play as an off-ball inside linebacker, but that's not something he's done with Atlanta.


Upshaw's workload has reduced since he's left Baltimore where he was a starter and moved into a rotational role with the Falcons. The highest number of snaps he played in any game last year was 25.

He seems to give a good effort in the trenches and in pursuit despite having a limited range. However, his conditioning has been an issue at times in the past.

Here's a play where he hustles after a loose ball to run it back for a touchdown:


Run defense

Upshaw has usually graded out well against the run over the years, although he's never reached the heights of his rookie year where he was in the top five graded edge defenders against the run in the NFL per Pro Football Focus. He's particularly good at setting the edge but lacks range in pursuit. Those abilities were part of the reason why he's been moved inside.

Since moving inside, his comparative speed has become an advantage. Here's a play where he shoots a gap into the backfield:


Upshaw lacks lateral quickness and has never been dominant in the trenches but plays with solid leverage and can shed blocks effectively, which makes him ideal for a rotational role.

Pass rush

Upshaw's production as a pass rusher has generally been disappointing. Obviously his sack numbers are poor, but he hasn't generated a great deal of pressure either.

Despite some good production at Alabama, there were those who doubted his abilities to replicate that at the pro level. Those doubts have proven well-founded as he lacks the quickness to be a constant threat off the edge.

Where he does win, it's usually via the bull rush and he uses his hands well to get off or around blocks. You'll note that he records this sack having lined up outside:


He'll often be employed in a contain role in the pocket, but - as he shows here - he will make the most of an opportunity to come downhill:



Upshaw is technically sound in terms of his leverage, hand placement techniques and footwork. That's how he was able to stand his ground so effectively when playing on the edge.

Now that he's moved inside the challenge is for him to remain technically sound so he doesn't find himself driven off the line as happens here:


In terms of pass rush moves, Upshaw doesn't show much. He might spin off a block from time to time, but generally he just looks to drive his man back and fight off the block with his hands.


Upshaw has been a productive tackler, although he can be prone to missing tackles in space. That's not so much from bad technique as his lack of range preventing him from getting in position to make a solid form tackle with his base under him.

Moving inside has seen him become a more efficient tackler, presumably because he's more likely to be bottling runs up or cleaning up than having to make a tackle in space. He only had three missed tackles over the past two seasons having averaged about eight per season when playing on the edge. Here's an example of the type of situation he's been avoiding since moving inside:



Upshaw has hardly ever dropped into coverage over the past two years, but it's something he did a lot when he was with the Ravens and he didn't give up many big plays despite his limitations. He also only had a handful of penalties. He was never not ideally suited to chasing receivers across the field but was adept at slowing them up at the line.

He had one pick-six in college on a play where he dropped off into a shallow zone which is something he could still be required to do now he's a lineman:


Upshaw had 13 passes defensed in his senior year of college and has eight career passes defensed in the NFL, most of which have been batted at the line:


Special teams

Upshaw contributed as a special teamer in his first season, with three tackles in kick coverage. However, as he became a starter, his contributions on special teams reduced significantly.

He saw some action on special teams towards the end of 2016 and had a few good moments including this tackle covering a punt:


On another play, Upshaw allowed his man to beat him to almost block a punt.

Despite his knack for batting down passes at the line doesn't have any blocked kicks in his pro or collegiate career and has six penalties on special teams in his career.


Upshaw is regarded as having good instincts. He keeps his head up in the trenches and reads and reacts to draw plays and screen passes well.

On this play, in coverage, he was involved in a blown coverage that led to a big play, but this kind of thing was rare:


He's jumped offside five times in his career, including once on a play where his teammate had a 105-yard pick six.


Upshaw was regarded as a leader at Alabama but was a bit of a volatile character. On one occasion he was suspended for kicking an opponent. He also was arrested in 2009 and had to get anger management classes.

At the NFL level, he had issues earlier on in his career with being unable to stay in shape. He also spent some time away from the team in camp due to personal issues, which were said to have fueled his bad dietary habits that led to the weight gain.

On the field, he's been somewhat penalty prone over the years, with a total of 12 personal fouls for things like roughing the passer and unsportsmanlike conduct. Here was a big hit that led to a roughing call:



Upshaw has never missed more than three games in a season, but was banged up with shoulder and foot issues early on in his career and missed time with ankle and knee issues last year.

Scheme Fit

This is an interesting pick-up which is probably just another body into the mix for the defensive line rotation and hopefully an upgrade over the outgoing Chris Jones.

However, who knows? Maybe Upshaw has slimmed down (or will be instructed to between now and camp) so he can play on the edge again.

No matter what his position is - and he could be used in multiple roles if he makes the team - it would make sense for him to be on the field for early downs to contribute against the run rather than in passing situations.

He has three former NFL teammates on the Jets' current roster - Terrence Brooks, Brandon Copeland and Andre Roberts. He was also a teammate of James Carpenter in college.


The Jets continue to tweak the bottom end of the roster, seemingly determined to maximize their depth at every position.

Upshaw hopefully provides the team with an upgrade, although the team has a lot of young players on the defensive line and they'll be hoping they all stay healthy and contribute so there will be limited spots available for a veteran like Upshaw to claim.