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

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.

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

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  • NVCowboy4Life

    Having Carter on the roster this year and picking up Upshaw would just make total sense to me.The knock on Carter is he is more of an OLB,using him this season in any capacity we can(ILB) would give him a year of NFL exp.,and next season we could draft an Upshaw type who would transition to the ILB spot and let Carter move to his more natural position of OLB.This would give us a cheaper replacement for Spencer,if that is the chosen route,and we would have a great LBing core with interchangeable players.Ware and Carter as OLBs with Butler as back-up.Lee and Upshaw as ILBs with Carter as back-up and Butler playing OLB if Carter is on the inside.IMHO Spencer will have a great year,if for no other reason, than it is a contract year for him.But the scenario above would have us prepared and we could keep Spencer or let him move on and be covered.

    • MadMick

      See, past experiments with minimal returns on the investment like Barbie and to some lesser extent Burnett make me leery of all these shiny guys with ill-defined positions.

      Besides it’s total fart-and-a-whirlwind stuff to envision Carter as a 3-4 OLB at this point. Trying to turn him into a productive pass rusher would be one hell of a trick to pull.

      • MusicCityNorm

        OR wARE?

        • MadMick

          Was Ware really an experiment? Because to me, it’s a pretty clear difference between college DE’s being stood up as a 3-4 OLB in the pros since their role is still more or less the same and a 4-3 OLB being slid inside in the pros.

  • NVCowboy4Life

    This combo of players are also very interchangeable and we all know how the Cowboys feel about that.It makes your team so much better.SARCASM!!!

    • MadMick

      There’s a fine line you walk between being a truly versatile player and a guy who’s so mediocre or average or yes, “finesse” at even his best trait that versatile or interchangeable is your fallback euphemism so you can make yourself and other suckers believe the guy isn’t a total chump. See: Carpenter, Barbie.

      I’ll give Carter the benefit of the doubt on all those counts until he’s at least played a down or two of meaningful football for the Cowboys.   

      As for the approach itself, I think it’s a philosophy the Patsies have thrived on enough in the past to trust themselves when they take a stab at a player with that little extra versatility.

      The Cowboys should probably worry more about just going ahead and getting a guy who is damn good at one thing. I mean he’s already been brought up once and he surely will again but the fact that the Cowboys had Spencer/Woodley so wrong and put way too much stock in measurables and “getting their kind of guy” means they can’t even get basic positions down. Fair or not, the same thing is also true of the Felix pick. Master the art of drafting your basic bread-and-butter players then get these jacks of all trade linebackers.

      • NVCowboy4Life

         Versatile is the type of players they are drafting. As I understood it Carter was more of an OLB that Dallas drafted to play ILB and a lot of people were trying to figure what they were thinking.My fallback is,I have no idea why they drafted this man.I was commenting about Spencer and was trying to find a use for Carter.
         I also don’t appreciate being called a sucker.If this is one of those sites where  name calling is the rule rather than the exception,than I made a mistake and will follow no further.

        • MadMick

          Sorry about that little misunderstanding; I should’ve been clearer with that comment as I was actually referring to the Cowboys own front office as the sucker in question for picking any guy with an ill-defined position whose natural fit as a pro isn’t clear cut.

          I should’ve said they’re fooling “themselves” and other suckers(pundits/Cowboys afficianados/draftniks) if they think versatile is a good enough way around owning up to picking a guy who is going to have to transition to a new scheme in the pros. Because that’s what I meant; not any shot at you since you clearly don’t
          have anything more to do with who the Cowboys pick than I do. I certainly hope they picked a guy they see as starting at ILB in 2012. If not, I smell another Barbie.

          We’ll see how it works out but nothing suggests Carter is an option as a 3-4 OLB; a position that in any version of the defense still needs to present some threat as a pass rusher.

          • NVCowboy4Life

            My fault,I shouldn’t be so touchy.This lockout and the Super Bowl drought are finally getting to me.
             Hopefully they have some sort of idea about how to use him,if it doesn’t translate into production it’s just another wasted pick on a “comer”.I hope he becomes what they envision and helps take us to #6.We,the fans,are more than just a little bit ready. As always Cowboys for Life!!!

        • Ccphil2124

          Somebody needs to quit getting butt hurt and learn to take criticism when it is given to them.  

  • MadMick

    Bringing up the Giants raises an interesting point though. For all their 1st and 2nd round currency spent on their D-line, they’re still a very vulnerable defense against the pass. Because they still don’t have anything resembling a great or even good secondary behind all those pass rushers.

    On the other hand, I can see the logic in drafting a replacement for Spencer high next year when: A.) He fails to be an impact player once again; especially one worthy of where he was drafted or B.) He has a nice season of 8-10 sacks and next year some sucker is willing to overpay for him by a significant amount; in which, yes, there’s the door.

    But what about C.) Spencer has a shockingly good contract year of 12-13 sacks? That means in 2012 somebody would overpay EVEN more for him than in scenario B. I think the best sense would still be to let him walk since he’d never replicate such a year. But it seems Jerry has recently been the president of any decent Cowboys’ fan club to the tune of way overpaying for them or giving them extensions prematurely. Saggledy Eyes is getting too sentimental in his later years.

    Of course C.) is a crack pipe dream scenario and it means the Cowboys killed the QB in 2011. I guess the main point I’m trying to get across is whatever Spencer does; underwhelming or overwhelming, I can actually see the sense in throwing another pick at OLB. I just wasn’t that crazy about it this past draft.

  • greatwhitenorth

    Count me in with the fans that would be skeptical/pained if the Cowboys are drafting yet another LB high in the draft of 2012.  Holding up NY and Philly as models to follow isn’t exactly encouraging–both do keep drafting linemen high, and both continue to have serious weaknesses at LB and to rely on overpriced FAs in the secondary.  The Giants did catch lightning in a bottle with their DL in 2007 and have been trying to repeat that ever since–but it’s pretty easy to argue that that DL was made by Strahan’s greatness more than any other factor.

    Rather than overstocking one group, I’d much rather have a balanced approach, with each unit having a couple of stud playmakers and a couple of solid roleplayers.    The OLB opposite Ware spends 3/4 of passing plays in coverage (or perhaps that was just the Phillips D?), so the value of another pass rushing OLB is limited.  I’d much rather add a Polamalu (or even a cheap imitation) than a Woodley.

  • AUDC

    “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.”

    Sounds an awful lot like what we already have in Spencer. 

    I figure it this way: If Upshaw puts up a monster sack total this season, he’ll probably be out of the Cowboys’ reach in the draft.  If he doesn’t put up a big total, why would the Cowboys use a first round pick to get Anthony Spencer Part 2?

    Note: I think Upshaw could be a very good inside ‘backer, but a first round pick is steep for a 3-4 ILB after taking two with high picks in the previous two years.

    • AustonianAggie

      I think the only way to improve over Spencer is to get someone who is faster

      • ChiaCrack

        yup we need a guy who is faster no doubt

  • Bored 2 Tears

    Holy crap we need some kind of league action to get going. Discussing POSSIBLE 2012 draft picks? Really? There are so many variables that make this dumb discussion.

    • Rafael Vela

      So what does your intellectual self suggest?  Troy Aikman’s house sale?  Tony Romo’s wedding?  

    • Lance

      I went to High School with Romo’s future mother in law! And she was a stone cold fox! Feel free to discuss! I hope this helps!

      • Rafael Vela

        LOL.  Every little bit helps, Lance.  More than you know!

  • ChiaCrack

    Im all for drafting a pass rusher next year, all the linebackers we drafted recently were inside guys
    we really havent spent picks on pass rushers besides Wade’s boy Brandon Williams and Victor Butler
    we need a pass rusher to replace Spencer if he sucks again

    CB Pass Rusher Safety, thats our focus next draft