Tar Heel players' draft stock hasn't crashed

Staff WriterApril 27, 2011 


UNC's Greg Little (8) sheds Miami defensive back DeMarcus Van Dyke (8) to score the Tar Heels' first touchdown against Miami in the second quarter at Kenan Stadium.

ROBERT WILLETT — ROBERT WILLETT-rwillett@newsobserver.com

Taking impermissible benefits from agents and other people cost Robert Quinn, Marvin Austin and Greg Little their college eligibility and the 2010 football season. However, the former North Carolina football players' roles in the NCAA's investigation of the Tar Heels program is not expected to cost them more than a few slots in this week's NFL draft, some pro football analysts said.

"I think all three of them are going to get drafted fairly high," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "And all three of them are really gifted football players."

All three players were declared permanently ineligible for college football during the investigation, but while NFL team executives have said that character issues have become increasingly important in recent years, Mayock and other analysts said accepting impermissible benefits may not hurt the North Carolina players much in the draft, which begins Thursday night.

Rather, it may be Quinn, Austin and Little's inability to work on their games last season that might lead NFL teams to downgrade them slightly

Quinn, for example, had a chance to be a top-three pick in the draft if he had played last season as a junior defensive end, according to ESPN.com analyst Mel Kiper. Instead, Quinn is now widely projected to be picked anywhere from the top 10's latter picks to somewhere in the first round.

Individual NFL teams would have to give their perspectives on whether the investigation created character issues for the UNC players, said Kiper, who expressed no specific concern over their roles in the NCAA probe.

"The inactivity for a year is the big problem I have," Kiper said. "I don't have a problem with the other issues."

As many as 11 North Carolina players are expected to be selected in this week's draft, which would give the Tar Heels their most draftees ever. In addition to Quinn, Austin and Little, three other players who were held out of games are likely to hear their name called.

Cornerback Kendric Burney missed seven games, and safeties Deunta Williams and Da'Norris Searcy missed four and three, respectively.

Linebackers Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant also are expected to get drafted, and there's a chance that quarterback T.J. Yates will be drafted, too. (Carter, Sturdivant and Yates were not held out of any UNC games in connection with the investigation.)

Carter - generally projected as a second-round pick - and Williams - projected to go in one of Saturday's latter rounds - are rehabilitating serious injuries that prevented them from participating in pre-draft workouts and didn't help their stock. (Carter underwent ACL reconstruction surgery in December after injuring his left knee during UNC's 29-25 loss to N.C. State on Nov. 20. Williams broke his right fibula at the ankle joint in the first quarter of the Tar Heels' 30-27 overtime win over Tennessee in the Dec. 30 Music City Bowl.)

Searcy, however, helped his stock tremendously with his play last season, as well as his performances in the pre-draft workouts.

"He is a kid that's climbed up even ahead of Williams," Kiper said of Searcy, "and he is a kid that with his ability and the way he performed, you're talking about a kid that maybe could be a third-round pick. And I don't think back in August you would have thought that."

Among the three players who were banned, Quinn seems to have done the best job of convincing analysts about his character. Quinn was reported to have accepted $5,642 in impermissible benefits, including two black diamond watches and travel accommodations to Miami.

"As a person, I like Robert Quinn a lot," NFL Network analyst Gil Brandt said. "I do feel like he really is a high-class person."

Austin, a defensive tackle whose impermissible benefits were estimated at between $10,000 and $13,000 by North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour, is considered a bit more "flamboyant" or "outside the box" by Mayock.

But in an ESPN "Outside the Lines" segment that aired Sunday, Austin said he was surprised that with a lot of teams, the impermissible benefits were not necessarily a sticking point.

"They wanted to talk to me and learn about me as a player," Austin told ESPN. "There may be teams that pass on Marvin Austin because they don't think I'm the person they want in their organization. But what I can say is, they're going to have to see me on Sunday.

Mayock said Austin was the best player at the East-West Shrine game and performed well at North Carolina's pro day and the NFL combine. Mayock now projects Austin to be drafted in the first round, somewhere between the 20th and 32nd picks.

The preseason prospects of Little, who UNC determined had accepted benefits worth $4,952 (including diamond earrings and trips to the Bahamas, Washington, D.C., and Miami) were the most uncertain of the three. Mayock said Little has the reputation of being a bit of a "diva" but still should be a third-round pick.

Staff writer Robbi Pickeral contributed to this report.

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942

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