Quinton Coples was the best player on the field at the Senior Bowl. He looked like a ringer, hand plucked from the NFL to show prospective rookies how it’s done. He consistently beat his man off the edge, dipped inside, showed great hands to avoid blocks and the burst and explosion you’d expect given his physical potential. Yet rather than celebrate this display, we’re left asking why it wasn’t on show during the regular season.
Coples coasted through 2011, belittling pre-season grades placing him second only to Andrew Luck in terms of pro-potential. In a down year for defensive lineman overall, it was so disappointing to see a guy with such potential perform with such mediocrity. Recently I’ve been projecting him as a late first round pick, testament to just how poorly he performed at times. What team in the top-15/20 could afford to gamble on a guy who plays so poorly with so much at stake? His Senior Bowl performance raises even more questions…
If he can play like this in what amounts to a job interview, why can’t he play like this on a standard week for North Carolina? If the background mess at North Carolina is largely responsible for Coples’ disappointing performances, should we expect the same if things aren’t going perfectly in the NFL? Is he going to stand up and be counted, or mail in the rest of the season if times are difficult? Will becoming a millionaire and first round pick be seen as ‘job done’ and does he have that burning desire to be great?
If the light stays on in the NFL, you’re looking at a player with enough potential to match the best defensive ends in the league. He has the physical qualities, the same ability to dominate opponents and be that defining edge rusher of his generation. He’s probably also going to have indifferent weeks – but if he brings it most of the time, especially at key moments, and can provide consistent pressure – he’ll end up being a star at the next level.
Part of me wants to buy into Coples. Is he a team player? Well he did switch positions in 2010 during UNC’s suspension crisis. With Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn and others missing the season, Coples dipped inside and did an admirable job. He moved back to end in 2011 and while his performance was largely disappointing, he’s not complained about the switch or used it as an excuse. He was often subbed in and out of games being spelled by Donte Paige-Moss, but appeared to get on with the job. Coples also stuck around for his senior year when he would’ve likely been a first round pick in 2011. He took full advantage of his trip to Mobile to show scouts what he’s capable of.
We saw in the Senior Bowl the way he keeps blockers guessing and flashes elite quickness from the snap. Coples kept hands away from his frame – he’s got long arms and used them well to avoid contact and lean around the edge. Although I don’t foresee any permanent future at the three-technique position, kicking him into the middle on third downs and obvious pass plays would allow you to put two edge rushers outside and consistently only need to rush 3-4 lineman adding numbers to your coverage.
Coples is an elite athlete – the absolute benchmark physically for a defensive end. Yet if he’d played with the same fire as Da’Quan Bowers did in 2010, he probably would’ve had 15 sacks this season. I’ve highlighted tape against Miami, NC State, Clemson and Missouri below that really shows the great dilemma here. We’ve seen the best and worst of Quinton Coples in the last few months, so what will the millionaire professional version look like?
Right now it’s hard to judge his stock. On pure potential he could still easily find a home in round one. Jacksonville needs a pass rusher, but missed recently on a similar physical talent in Derrick Harvey. Miami appears to be contemplating a switch to the 4-3, making Coples a more realistic proposition if he’s going to be viewed as an orthodox defensive end. Likewise Buffalo may also change to the 4-3 and are crying out for a pass rusher. All possible homes, but all with alternative needs and maybe lingering doubts about whether Coples will max out his potential. We’re talking about three franchises who can’t afford to trip up - two of which are breaking in new coaches. Will they play it safe and go for a more conservative pick, or try to hit the home run?
What about the Seahawks? He’s not an obvious fit for Seattle’s scheme and replacing Chris Clemons – the team’s only pass rush threat in 2011 – shouldn’t be a priority this year. Clemons needs help, not an understudy. Coples could work at left end, but that would mean replacing Red Bryant, who appears likely to be re-signed while keeping his place among a big middle-three. I don’t think Coples can work permanently at the three-technique as mentioned before given his size and frame. Plus the Seahawks appear to making relatively safe picks in round one – solid players who will buy in and contribute quickly. Coples would be their riskiest project to date, but also potentially their most rewarding. I don’t think Seattle will draft Quinton Coples if he’s available, but like every other team in the NFL – they’ll have to try and work out whether he’s worth the gamble.
Tape courtesy of Aaron Aloysius and JMPasq. To read our Senior Bowl write-up from yesterday, click here.