UNC's Quinton Coples seen as enigma entering NFL draft

acarter@newsobserver.comApril 25, 2012 

NFL Combine Football

North Carolina defensive lineman Quinton Coples runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Monday, Feb. 27, 2012.

MICHAEL CONROY — Michael Conroy - AP

  • In addition to Quinton Coples, here’a a look at the Tar Heels’ other prospects entering the draft: Name, Pos., Height/Weight Charles Brown, CB, 5-9/202 A three-year starter at UNC, Brown is a physical cornerback who thrived against the run during his years with the Tar Heels. Still, he has had to overcome questions about his size and his ability to cover a receiver past the line of scrimmage. He’s projected as a fifth- or sixth-round pick. Zach Brown, LB, 6-1/244 Brown ran a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, and his combination of speed and athleticism helped his draft stock soar since the end of his senior season, which he finished with 105 tackles. Many scouts view Brown as a somewhat raw prospect who has a lot of potential. He is projected as a mid-to-late first-round pick. Dwight Jones, WR, 6-3/226 Jones caught 85 passes for for 1,196 yards during his senior season at UNC. At one time, he was seen as a likely second-round pick in the draft, but his stock has slipped since the end of the season. Because of a disciplinary issue, he wasn’t invited to UNC’s pro day. Jones is projected to be a late-third or fourth-round pick. Donte Paige-Moss, DT, 6-3/238 Paige-Moss left school early after a somewhat unimpressive junior season. Still, he showed flashes of potential throughout his time at UNC, especially during his sophomore season, when he had 49 tackles and seven sacks. Paige-Moss’s talent can’t be questioned, but questions about his work ethic have left him projected as a late-round pick. Tydreke Powell, DT, 6-2/311 Powell isn’t known for his athleticism, but his size and experience alone could be enough for a team to take a chance on him in the later rounds. He is strong, but scouts believe he lacks quickness. SOURCE: NFL.com

— The NFL’s 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 prospect’s 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 I’ve 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, he’s mailed it in. He’s 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 haven’t really been paying any attention,” Coples said last month when asked about his stock, and about whether he felt it had fallen. “I’ve just been grinding, and whoever chooses me or whoever takes that chance on me – I’m just going to take it as a blessing. So I haven’t been paying attention to all the [projections] and stuff like that.”

One attribute that helps Coples’ stock is his versatility. He’s 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 he’ll be driven enough to push himself in the NFL. McShay, the draft analyst, specifically criticized Coples’ effort during UNC’s 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.”

Carter: 919-829-8944

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