Quinn could be draft's sleeper

Ex-Heel might be top-five pick

Staff WriterFebruary 28, 2011 

— The first test Robert Quinn had to undergo at the NFL combine was an MRI on the benign tumor in his skull.

Before doing the 40-yard dash or bench press at Lucas Oil Stadium, Quinn was eased into the narrow confines of an MRI machine, a device the former North Carolina defensive end became all too familiar with after doctors discovered his brain tumor during his senior year of high school.

No one could blame Quinn if his palms started sweating Saturday when he was on his back in the tubular machine.

No sweat.

"I'm usually asleep [within] two seconds when I get in there," Quinn said. "I'm asleep going in, and I'm asleep coming out."

Before he leaves here, Quinn could well emerge as the sleeper in this year's draft. Despite sitting out last season because of his involvement in the agent scandal at UNC, Quinn will be one of the first names called when the draft starts April 28, according to at least one prominent draft analyst.

"I think he'll go in the top five," said the NFL Network's Mike Lombardi, a former NFL executive. "I think he's one of the best defensive linemen in the draft. Unfortunately, he missed a year. I could see him being the first pick overall, actually."

It's not as though scouts and general managers weren't familiar with Quinn.

The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder led the ACC with 19 tackles for losses and had 11 sacks as a sophomore in 2009 while earning a spot on the all-conference team.

But that was before Quinn became embroiled in the NCAA investigation that resulted in him and Tar Heels receiver Greg Little being ruled permanently ineligible for accepting impermissible gifts.

Quinn stayed in school and worked out on his own in a small weight room at UNC's indoor track facility. He drove to Atlanta for the Tar Heels' opening game against LSU and nearly cried watching the undermanned Tar Heels - who were without 13 players because of the investigation - lose by six points.

It was the second time sports had been taken away from Quinn.

Early in his senior year at Fort Dorchester High in North Charleston, S.C., Quinn began waking up each morning with headaches. When the headaches increased and Quinn began experiencing blackouts, his parents took him to a hospital, and doctors discovered the tumor.

He underwent surgery in October 2007 to reduce the size and remove fluid from around the tumor, which had caused swelling in his brain. Doctors told him his athletic career was likely over.

"At one point, they told me I should have been brain dead. It was kind of that Boobie Miles moment when I looked at my mom when they told me I wouldn't play sports again, and I became that big old baby and busted out in tears," said Quinn, referring to the former Texas high school tailback who was the primary subject of the best-selling book "Friday Night Lights."

Quinn, who gets checkups on his brain twice a year, will work out with the rest of the defensive linemen today. At least one of his college teammates believes Quinn will put on a show.

Two years ago in Chapel Hill, Quinn ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds to break the position record held by Julius Peppers. He can bench 380 pounds and has a 32-inch vertical leap.

"He's an extremely special talent. He's got measurables that are going to blow a lot of people away at the combine," UNC quarterback T.J. Yates said. "His motor, in practice, in games I was playing with him, he's a guy that will never stop. I think that's one of the things that's really going to shoot him up [draft boards] when people watch film on him and see what type of high motor he has."

jperson@charlotteobserver.com or 704-358-5123

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