I’ve just finished watching the Louisville vs North Carolina game from Saturday, focusing on UNC defensive lineman Quinton Coples. I’ve never been that impressed when I’ve watched him in the past, but this was a game I thought he had a chance to dominate. Louisville are struggling a bit – losing at home to Marshall the previous week and starting a freshman left guard who had only recently converted from defense.
However, much to my disappointment, Coples was again largely ineffective. This is a player everyone is touting as the best defensive prospect for 2012 – without fail. A lot of high profile pundits have Coples ranked very highly – he’s #2 on Mel Kiper’s big board and several others have him in the top five of their mock drafts. Sorry, but I don’t see a top five pick when I watch Quinton Coples. I’m not even convinced I see a player with first round potential period.
One of the biggest problems I have with him is figuring out what kind of player he’ll be at the next level. He’s not a great speed rusher or a player who creates consistent pressure with technique, power or by mastering one particular move. That says to me you’re fighting a losing battle trying to force him into a right end role in the 4-3 (the position he mostly plays for North Carolina). He’s about 275-280lbs which isn’t ideal size to kick inside and play three technique where I think he’d really struggle against the run and would have major problems against interior blocking. I end up looking at the five technique position, but even then I’m not completely convinced because he doesn’t do a great job shedding blocks after engaging an offensive lineman. He can hold the point of attack to free up room for on-rushing linebackers, which is probably why I settle for the orthodox 3-4 five-tech with some remaining suspicion.
Whatever position you think he fits, you’ll have a hard time convincing me that this guy is worth the hype. He might be the most over rated 2012 draft eligible player – which says a lot given who he’s competing with for that honor.
Case in point… it’s third down on Louisville’s 5 yard line in the first quarter and Coples is playing right end. There’s no explosion off the snap and he engages the left tackle but can’t beat him round the edge. He tries a move to pull inside, but the tackle just passes him off to the freshman guard who just completely stones him still with a two hand punch to the chest. It was such a laboured move that didn’t threaten either offensive lineman – initial burst lacking, not enough speed and he’s beaten for power by a guard who’s learning the position on the run.
Coples doesn’t play with any real urgency or fire. He could make up for a lack of edge speed by just competing at 100% and flashing the kind of power you expect from someone at 280lbs and 6-6, but it’s never there. He hasn’t got a bull rush. He hasn’t got a spin move. He hasn’t got a good club or swim. What does he bring to the table other than a big frame and above average athleticism for that size? His hand usage needs to be much better, too often he gets tied up with a lineman when a sudden jolt or a club would free him up to get that extra space needed to work into the backfield. I don’t see a guy who finishes plays – the one time he did have an effective splash it was only to jolt the running back backwards for another defender to complete the move. Coples beat a converted wide out playing tight end who was hopelessly misplaced in that situation, hardly a moment worthy of great praise.
Another big problem I have is how often Coples is subbed out of the game. I didn’t keep an official count but he seems to be in on around 60% of the defensive snaps, switching with Donte Paige-Moss. Really?A top five pick who plays right end but you’re subbing him out for four consecutive plays when Louisville have moved from their own 35 to inside UNC territory? It would’ve been five plays but for a time out. I think back to defensive lineman I’ve watched in recent years and rated highly and how ridiculous it would be to think of those guys stood watching from the sidelines on key first downs. That’s Coples for you. Why? Does he get tired easily? Are the coaches not telling us about an injury? Is it a conditioning issue?
I’ve been critical of other players in the past for relying on speed and not mastering a technical move or owning a strong repertoire (eg another former Tar Heel – Robert Quinn). Coples doesn’t have the speed or the moves. He looks so laboured as a pass rusher, without lacking the obivous qualities to move inside. To some degree he reminds me of a poor man’s Carlos Dunlap – who has almost identical size at 6-6, 277lbs. During his time at Florida, Dunlap was pretty frustrating because he had excellent physical qualities but coasted through games. Every now and again though he’d turn it on for a series and look like an elite prospect. He went from a potential top-10 pick to a late second rounder, taken by Cincinnati, mainly due to attitude and inconsistency.
It was a bit of a wake up call for Dunlap, who registered 9.5 sacks in an impressive rookie season for the Bengals. Coples’ all round play reminds me of the worst of Dunlap, just without the ability to really turn it on every now and again. If the elite potential is there, then maybe I could buy into a little of the hype. Sometimes a guy’s best football really is in the pro’s. With Coples, I just can’t see it. He looks like a player I’d possibly take the chance on in round two (like Dunlap) but wouldn’t invest much more based on his body of work so far.
With regards to the Seahawks, I don’t see how he fits into the scheme and projecting him to Seattle would be a misguided projection in my mind. He isn’t a LEO candidate or a player who could spell the Red Bryant position. I don’t see him moving inside to the three technique.
I’m surprised so many people are willing to throw Coples into the top five of a mock draft or big board. The only thing more confusing to me is how established draft pundits actually give his time-share buddy Donte Paige-Moss a first round grade – a player who at no point during his career has flashed anything but average pass rushing ability and mid-to-late round qualities. Is it the real lack of elite defensive talent and people need someone to invest their faith in? I’m not sure, but I’d keep looking for a defensive player worthy of the grade.
The real stars on UNC’s defense come at linebacker and Zach Brown is a proper first round prospect (see video below, courtesy of JMPasq). In this game he was again all over the field, showing great recognition skills and the physical qualities to react and make an impact as the play develops. He had an interception reading the QB like a book and showed surprising strength when engaging lineman as a pass rusher.
Alongside receiver Dwight Jones, Brown is the Tar Heel who excites me the most in terms of the draft. Certainly I don’t see Coples being an early pick as the foregone conclusion many appear to have drawn. There’s still plenty of time for this assesment to change and certainly he has time to add to the 2.5 sacks he has this year (2.0 came against James Madison in week one). A major improvement is needed however to come anywhere near to justifying the lofty expectations.