Pete Carroll says he wants to improve the team’s pass rush, but the first round isn’t filled with a lot of top-end defensive line options. North Carolina’s Quinton Coples entered the season with a lot of hype but didn’t live up to expectations. He started slowly with just two sacks against James Madison in his first four games and he was a non-factor in the team’s first defeat to Georgia Tech. Coples was subbed in and out regularly, spelling with Donte Paige-Moss and interestingly was kept out of crucial early down’s. Thing’s picked up late in the year and he finished with five sacks in his last seven games. However, it may be too late to save his dwindling draft stock.
Tony Pauline at Draft Insider.net reported, “The news has not been positive for defensive lineman Quinton Coples. Considered by just about all, including yours truly, as the top rated senior entering the 2011 campaign. Coples watched his play and production slide. Its obvious on film Coples did not play with a sense of urgency last season nor really went after plays not in his immediate vicinity. While Coples turned it on late in the year scouts were given the word from those inside the North Carolina program that Coples was “playing not to get injured” for much of the year and was preparing for the draft rather than playing for the season.”
You don’t keep spelling future NFL lineman unless there’s something seriously wrong. Coples was not hurt, he was not tired – that was a coaches decision. Pauline’s report makes absolute sense to anyone who watched North Carolina earlier in the season. Coples looks every bit a pro-prospect physically and when he wants to, he shows off a certain degree of talent. However, how early are you prepared to take the risk that the light stays on once he gets paid? Let’s not forget, this is a player who seemingly risked his eligibility in 2011 after attending a draft part for former Tar Heels Robert Quinn and Marvin Austin (who themselves had already missed the 2010 season). The NCAA investigated after pictures (click here) emerged of Coples at the party, apparently also attended by an alleged runner. He was eventually cleared and it was judged no violation took place. Considering North Carolina’s recent issues, it may have been wise to stay at home.
So here we are, preparing for the 2012 NFL Draft. Having failed to dominate at the defensive end position, some pundits are wondering whether he could have a future inside at tackle. Due to Marvin Austin’s suspension in 2010, North Carolina moved Coples to defensive tackle out of sheer necessity. Rob Rang at CBS Sportsline and NFL Draft Scout recently mocked Coples to Seattle with the idea he could play the three-technique position. So is it an option? In my opinion, no – especially not in Seattle.
Take a look at the tape below (courtesy of Aaron Aloysius) which highlights Coples playing at tackle:
The Seahawks have built a system which is quite niche. We all know by now they use three big lineman (Alan Branch, Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant) with a LEO pass rusher in space attacking the edge. The WILL linebacker is expected to create pressure on the opposite side to Chris Clemons on obvious passing situations and third downs. So far it’s had mixed results, helping to solidify the run for the first half of the 2010 and 2011 season’s, emphasising Clemons’ talents as an edge rusher but generally not creating enough pressure. Seattle ranked 19th for sacks with 33 – eleven of which were from Clemons. Carroll says he wants more speed among his front seven and it’s easy to see why.
However, how does Coples fit into this scheme? You can see in the video above how completely ineffective he is in run defense. He’ll be a consistent liability playing in the middle in the NFL and it makes almost no sense to have an undersized three technique playing alongside Brandon Mebane if you’re going to play Red Bryant at end. If Coples lined up next to Clemons in the three-technique, where would you run the ball? Against Mebane and Bryant, or Coples and 254lbs Chris Clemons? It would negate all of the benefits Seattle has looked for with this system defending the run.
Of course, you could use Coples as a spot-duty pass rusher inside on long distance downs and passing situations – but are you really going to spend the #11 or #12 pick for that? Of course not. I don’t even think Coples is that effective as a pass rusher at three-technique to warrant consideration for a permanent move inside. After all, North Carolina quickly moved him back to the edge for the start of this season. You could ask Coples to add weight (he’s currently at around 280-285lbs) but will you negate what speed he has if you’re asking him to add 10lbs?
His frame and build look ideal to play the orthodox five-technique position in the 3-4, or potentially power end in the 4-3. If the questions weren’t there already about his heart and desire after a sloppy senior season, are you really going to take a gamble on a not-obvious scheme fit who may need to adapt physically to play inside? Is Quinton Coples really what the Seahawks defense has been missing?
There’s no doubt they need to find a three-technique who has the size to play any down but can offer greater interior pressure. Michael Brockers (DT, LSU) still looks like the best first round option if he chooses to declare, but alternatives are limited apart from that. Devon Still (DT, Penn State) had a strong senior campaign, but may be a better fit at five-technique. I don’t think Coples is the answer though and it would be a surprise if the Seahawks drafted him.