Wes Bunting: Upshaw Has the Upside to Interest Dallas’ Scouts in 2012

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Part Two of this week’s chat with the National Football Post’s Wes Bunting reviews his method of projecting and grading players in their senior years and gives a scouting report on a highly rated outside linebacker prospect.

Cowboys Nation:  Talk about projecting players.  That’s part of any scouts job and certainly of any draftniks’ job.  You have to take these guys who are 20, 21 years old and tell us not only where they’ll be in October, November and December of this year, but in October, November, December of 2012 as pros.  How tricky is that?

Wes Bunting:  It’s very hard.  When did we start talking about Danny Watkins, October?  November?  I was in love with his game, but when I watched him him as a junior, and everybody knows his backstory, it was only his third year playing football.  When I watched him as a junior, I thought he’s strong, he’s really raw.  I gave him a late round grade, to be honest.

Then I saw him again as a senior, and that maturation process had taken place, and he was more comfortable with his technique and his offense with just one more year of playing, and I thought, this isn’t the same guy I saw before.  I had to throw out his junior report and write another one, because this guy got tremendously better.  As a junior he was learning his trade and as a senior, he was one of the best offensive linemen in the country.

CN:  Tell us then what you do now?  People can go to your site and read the Alabama and the Auburn reports and you’ve singled out players, but are these preliminary reports?  How do you modify them during the season?

WB: If I had to submit a scouting report to the National Football Post for a Josh Chapman, this is what I would give them.  I’d slap a grade on him, but this is what what it is.  Now, I’ll have to watch these guys again as seniors.  What I’ll do during the year, I’ll start watching some of the bigger school guys on TV, just to get a feel for where they are, then I’ll get another big shipment of tapes around gave five or game six and I’ll go back and watch, with these junior reports sitting next to me.

If what I see matched up with what I wrote initially, I’ll keep it pretty much the same, and I’ll be happy because it’s less work.  But if I’m watching another Danny Watkins and the initial scouting report says this guy gets a 5.0 grade and his senior tape says he’s a 7.5, then I’m way off and I’ll have to write up a new one.  Now not everyone is that significant in his change.  Some seniors might change their instincts and their feel for the game.

I was doing Lawrence Wilson the other day, the linebacker from UConn.  I said he didn’t have a great feel in coverage as a junior.  Now I watch him again as a senior and he greatly improved.  Now, I’m not taking out the part which said he struggled as a junior.  That’s a fact, but at the same time, I’m adding that he’s dramatically improved in this area as a senior and I now feel he can hold his own as a nickel backer.  So you’re just adding, or taking stuff away, based on what these guys do from their junior to their senior years.

CN:  Let’s move now to Courtney Upshaw.  Looking at it from a Cowboys’ perspective, they have a make or break decision at outside linebacker.  They have to know what the new CBA will eventually be.  They have to know what the new cap will be.  Regardless, Anthony Spencer is going to complete his contract at the end of the 2011 season.

Some fans may be skeptical about drafting another linebacker, since the team just took inside backers with its 2nd round picks the last two years and has taken a lot of outside guys in the 1st, going back to 2005, when Demarcus Ware was the guy.  But if you run a 3-4, you can’t be short on linebackers, especially outside linebackers.  Courtney Upshaw may therefore be part of their thinking.  Tell us more about him.

WB:  He’s a man-child.  He is as powerful pound for pound as any defender I’ve seen, including last year.  If you want a thump, he’s the definition of a power player.  He’s 6’2”, 262-265.  Some people who I’ve talked to and respect think he’s an inside ‘backer in the NFL.  I think he’s a strong-side ‘backer in the NFL and if you let this guy rush off the edge..  He’s got a good first step.  He uses his hands extremely well.  He fights off blocks.  He can bull-rush consistently.

He’s not electric.  He doesn’t have a great first step, but he has a good enough first step and he threatens off the edge.  Alabama plays him down in nickel situations because they go to a four-man line, and he’s not as effective with his hand on the ground.  I like him more standing up, but, he can reach the passer.  He can fend off blocks and he’s a heck of a run player as well.  He’s instinctive.  He’s coordinated in his drop in coverage, but he’s not overly fluid.  As a downhill guy he can make an impact certainly as a pass rusher.  He has the versatility to play inside, but I like him on the outside.

CN:  Does he compare to anybody who’s playing on the strong-side in the NFL right now?

WB:  That’s a good question.  I was thinking he could have a Lamarr Woodley-type impact but Woodley is a 245-250 lb. guy and this guy is 265.

CN:  I think Woodley has beefed up to 260-265 now.  Woodley immediately came to mind because he’s 6’2” and Upshaw is 6’2” and I remember Woodley got docked by some analysts and some teams who thought he was too short.

WB:  Upshaw is 6’2” and he’s got these really heavy hands.  He unleashes a really strong jolt on his punch.  He’s violent.  He’s sudden.  He’s quick in tight areas.  He just has a great motor.  He made a lot of plays at the end of the year.  He’s going to be one heck of a guy to block.  He had 7-8 sacks last year.  I think he could be a double digit sack guys this year in the SEC.

CN:  Where would you put him with this past year’s bunch.  It was a great crop of down linemen, but not the best outside linebacker bunch.  Say he had just declared.  Where would he rate?

WB:  I would put him up there with Von Miller.  They’re different players, understand.  Von can play in a 4-3 front.  He’s more fluid, more athletic and Miller goes higher on draft day, but I think Upshaw goes in that second tier of guys.

CN:  So you have no hesitation saying right now he projects as a clear 1st rounder?

WB:  I like him more than Chapman.  I think this guy can make an impact as a first-year player, as a rusher, and can develop into one of the league’s better pass rushers if he keeps working at it.

CN:  It may pain some people to think Dallas might look at another pass rushing linebacker considering all the really high picks they’ve spent on the position, but you can’t be short on pass rushing linebacker if you run a 3-4.  Look at the Giants.  They run a 4-3 and Jerry Reese is drafting defensive linemen in the 1st or 2nd round almost every year.  The same is true of Andy Reid in Philly.  When you run that scheme you depend on your linemen to produce the rush and you never want to be short on it.  Dallas depends on its linebackers to rush so they need to be well stocked at that position.  Always.

WB:  You can never be short on rushers.  If you have them, you find a way to get them on the field.

Friday:  Wes looks at the senior class at Cowboys positions of interest.

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Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ TheBoys.com in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for SportsTalkLine.com