The Ravens were long speculated as a suitor for one of Upshaw’s college teammates: inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower, but he went off the board at pick 25 to the New England Patriots who traded into a position where they could select him. However, Upshaw being still on the board at pick 35 was a nice surprise to the Ravens, whose General Manager Ozzie Newsome has a fondness and familiarity for Alabama players that dates back to his days as a star tight end for the Crimson Tide.
Upshaw was the fifth Alabama player to be drafted , following running back Trent Richardson (3rd to the Cleveland Browns), safety Mark Barron (7th to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (17th to the Cincinnati Bengals) and Hightower.
The Ravens have drafted six Crimson Tide players in team history, the second most from any school. Oklahoma (seven) is first.
When the draft process started, Upshaw was never connected to the Ravens because nobody figured that he’d drop to the late first round, nevermind early second round. However, his status took a significant hit after an uneven performance at the Senior Bowl and an indifferent one at the NFL Scouting Combine. Upshaw, 22, also did not work out at his Pro Day because of knee tendinitis.
He did little to stand out during Senior Bowl drills and then at the combine, he tested poorly, didn’t look in top shape and reportedly turned off some coaches by jogging in between drills. He also declined to run at the event.
The showing added to some potential character and maturity concerns for Upshaw, who was arrested in August 2009 along with his girlfriend and charged with misdemeanor domestic violence and third-degree harassment.
The Ravens, however, did their homework on Upshaw and decided the player’s upside far exceeded the potential risks.
Upshaw is extremely strong and powerfully built, and uses both speed and power to get to the quarterback. He has refined pass-rushing moves and the strength and quickness to get off blocks and chase down running backs from behind.
The selection of Upshaw marks the first time the Ravens have drafted a linebacker in the first round since they took Suggs out of Arizona State with the 10th overall selection in 2003.
While the addition of Upshaw does answer one significant question, the Ravens still have a healthy list of needs that they hope to address over the final two days of the draft.
They figure to add at least one offensive lineman in the draft, including a potential replacement for Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs who signed with the New Orleans Saints a couple of days into free agency. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie is entering the final season of his contract and center Matt Birk contemplated retirement this past offseason and is no lock to return for more than one year.
The Ravens are still looking to increase their positional depth at running back, wide receiver, defensive line and safety. They also are hoping to come out of the draft with a return specialist.
Rounds four through seven of the draft will take place on Saturday, starting at noon.
The Ravens have eight more picks remaining with at least one in every round and two in the fourth and fifth rounds.