The rush for a rush linebacker

NFL Draft The rush for a rush linebacker

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In the first two rounds, 3-4 outside linebacker prospects Melvin Ingram (6’2” 276) of South Carolina, Courtney Upshaw (6’2” 265) of Alabama, and Southern Cal’s Nick Perry (6’3” 250) should all be hot commodities, largely because of their ability to rush the passer.  Whereas Perry is the best pure edge rusher of the bunch, and Ingram the most versatile, it is Courtney Upshaw who is the consummate run defender, and, as such, the best fit for the Baltimore Ravens

Make no mistake, Upshaw is no slouch when it comes to pressuring the quarterback, possessing a violent club move, a powerful bull rush, and the ability to attack the edge from either a standing position or with one hand in the dirt.  He displays good quickness and leverage, using his wide base to get under the pads of opposing offensive tackles, at times, driving them back and collapsing the pocket.  But Upshaw really shines in the run game, where he sets like granite on the edge, and holds his ground even against hulking guards and tackles. 

Upshaw is a fierce hitter, who drives through tackles, and, like his Alabama teammate, Dont’a Hightower, possesses a thorough knowledge of the game and an instinctual feel for a play’s development.  The only downside to Upshaw, as a potential Raven’s selection, is that, like Ingram and Perry, he is not likely to be available at pick #29.  In all likelihood, Baltimore will have to trade up to procure one of these elite outside linebackers.

After that the 2012 draft is not deep in quality 3-4 outside backers, with Boise State’s Shea McClellin (6’3” 258) and the University of Texas’ Kennan Robinson (6’3” 239) being the only real prospects worthy of a mid-round selection, McClellin is both a highly underrated defender and an ideal fit for the Ravens’ defense.  Not blessed with elite size or athleticism, McClellin compensates with a huge motor and more versatility than virtually any defensive player in this draft.  If fact, this versatility may actually hurt his draft stock.  He played so many positions at Boise State, most of them well, that many scouts don’t know quite what to make of him.  He has been listed on draft boards as a 4-3 outside linebacker, a 3-4 outside linebacker, multiple inside linebacker positions, a stand-up edge rusher, or even a traditional 4-3, hand in the dirt, defensive end.  

That said he’s a natural fit for the Sam outside backer position the way that it is employed in the Ravens’ scheme.  McClellin has great jump off the ball, and quickly engages opponents, using his arms and strong hands to keep himself clean and manipulate the offensive lineman, as well as any defensive player in the draft.  Versus the pass, he has a plethora of moves, effectively employing an arm under, a spin, or a bull rush with equal mastery.  Though not explosive, he possesses the speed to get around the corner, and is relentless in working to the quarterback. 

McClellin also has experience dropping into coverage, and though lacking exceptional lateral mobility, does a solid job finding the ball, and would be comfortable dropping off the line during zone blitzes.  Against the run, McClellin is as tough as anyone except Courtney Upshaw, and is able to take blockers head on or to exhibit the agility to work through traffic to get to the ball carrier.  He is a solid anchor on the perimeter, who also has the athleticism and drive to pursue plays far downfield.  Much like Boston College’s Luke Kuechly, McClellin is not a workout or a combine star. Instead he’s just a good football player, who not only knows how to play the game, but also is a proven winner, having been a vital part of a record 50 wins at the collegiate level while playing for Boise State.


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Jimmy O'Brien

About Jimmy O'Brien

Jimmy O’Brien is a football and NFL Draft junkie, who went to Penn State to major in pigskin, only to learn that you were required to choose an actual academic course of study.  Perplexed, he settled on a career as a sports writer, eventually (7 years later) earning a B.A. and Masters in English, and a Ph.D. in watching college football.  He is the founder of PhillyJimmy Philms, which produces NFL prospect videos featuring small school college players, and is currently a film contributor and writer for  Jimmy can be found on twitter @phillyjimmy or online at More from Jimmy O'Brien


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