CHAPEL HILL — The NFLs annual scouting combine in Indianapolis can be a strange place, one that takes on the feel of a meat market, and former North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples felt a bit like a commodity back when he participated in February.
It was definitely like that, he said last month after the Tar Heels pro day, when Coples again worked out for NFL scouts. [I] definitely had a lot of people pulling on me in all kinds of directions.
One of the most challenging parts of the combine can be the interview portion, when players meet with general managers and coaches whose goal is to get inside a prospects head, and to examine his psyche. Coples said he met with 20 teams in Indianapolis, and they likely all wanted to know the same thing:
Is Coples more the player who displayed flashes of dominance during his years at UNC? Or is he more the player prone to taking plays off, or to disappear for long stretches? Which is the real Coples, and which version will show up in the NFL?
Todd McShay, the ESPN NFL draft analyst, recently described Coples as one of the toughest evaluations Ive made to make in the entire 2012 class.
There are times you watch him, and you think, This is the best defensive player in the class, McShay said. And there are other times you watch and you say, Man, hes mailed it in. Hes not giving the effort that you need to give.
Despite the questions that surround Coples intensity, his size 6-foot-6, 284 pounds and skill set leave many considering him a first-round lock in the NFL draft beginning tonight in New York. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock ranks Coples as the second-best defensive end prospect in the draft, and Coples is expected to be the first player from an area school to be drafted.
Still, Coples draft stock has slid since he finished his senior season with 55 tackles, 7.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss. Once viewed as a near-certainty to be a top-10 pick, most projections now have Coples being drafted in the middle of the first round.
The Carolina Panthers, with a need for defensive help, are among Coples possible destinations. The Panthers have the ninth overall pick, and team officials reportedly met with Coples in Chapel Hill earlier this week.
I havent really been paying any attention, Coples said last month when asked about his stock, and about whether he felt it had fallen. Ive just been grinding, and whoever chooses me or whoever takes that chance on me Im just going to take it as a blessing. So I havent been paying attention to all the [projections] and stuff like that.
One attribute that helps Coples stock is his versatility. Hes capable of playing defensive end in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme, and he could also play outside linebacker in a 3-4. Coples worked out at linebacker during his pro day at UNC.
Still, amid all of Coples positive attributes remain questions about his drive, and whether hell be driven enough to push himself in the NFL. McShay, the draft analyst, specifically criticized Coples effort during UNCs defeat against Missouri in the Independence Bowl last December.
They know the upside, and they also know the floor, McShay said of how teams have evaluated Coples. I think when you look at it, you have to have good veterans in place. You have to have a coach that can motivate in place. And if you do, maybe you have a chance to get a great player in this draft.