Quinton Coples is over rated

Quinton Coples: Unimpressive pass rusher and painful looking tattoo's

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.


  1. Not Rob

    Let’s see the 32 players you’d have in front of Coples.

    • Rob

      When I watch Coples and break down the tape, so far I haven’t seen a player worthy of the kind of projections people have bestowed upon him (eg – top ten lock). I didn’t say in this article that he won’t be a first rounder, that it was impossible for him to improve and have a greater impact this season. What I did say was I believe this player is over rated and not worthy of a high first round grade and based on what I have seen so far, he may not be worth a first round grade period.

      At this stage in the process it’s not about naming 32 players and needing to prove Coples is #33 or lower. A team on draft day won’t have 32 players with first round grades – they may have more or less. I have only a handful of players I would commit first round grades to and a lot of the ‘consensus’ first rounders I’m seeing in the early mock drafts I cannot for the life of me understand. I have no bias towards any college team (I’m really high on UNC’s Dwight Jones and Zach Brown) so you will always get a honest view on these players.

  2. Ralphy


    You should try to check this out on Wed.

    ESPN’s “Depth Chart” special on Oklahoma State football – focusing primarily on quarterback Brandon Weeden – is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday.
    An ESPN film crew was in the Cowboy camp from early August through the season-opening victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. The “Depth Chart” series is part of ESPN’s “Year of the Quarterback” programming and also involves Auburn and Wisconsin.
    For the one-hour OSU special, ESPN collected more than 80 hours of film.

    “This (quarterback) position is so closely scrutinized,” ESPN executive producer Vinnie Malhotra said. “We created this series to draw back the curtain and really show fans what it takes to play quarterback in one of America’s top college football programs.”

    Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/sportsextra/OSU/article.aspx?subjectid=93&articleid=20111010_93_0_EPDphC937386

    • Rob

      I’ve seen sections of the Oklahoma State documentary, watched a couple of pieces on Saturday they clipped as teasers. I’m going to try and keep an eye out for it over here on ESPN America, I suspect it will be available because we had the series on Oklahoma during the summer.

  3. Jmpasq

    I agree with on a lot of this. I pegged him as a 5 tech last year and got ripped for it as draftniks touted him as a 3-4 OLB “which is insane”. I do think Coples has the ability to be an effective 3-4 RE at the next level. His 2010 tape “Mostly as a 3 tech” showed him using his hands and leverage to collapse the pocket even against double teams. I do agree though about being overrated. My next mock draft will not feature Coples as a high draft pick.
    On a side not I did like the play of JUCO transfer Sylvester Williams in this game. I will be keeping a closer eye on him as the season progresses

    • Kip Earlywine

      I was just going to say that Coples looks better suited as a 3-4 end prospect also. He’s just not explosive enough to be a great 4-3 pass rusher, but he isn’t a horrible pass rusher by 3-4 standards. He’s disciplined and hard to clear out of a running lane too.

      Also, I went back and watched some other videos- and saw that Coples gets killed when moving inside to 4-3 DT. I think he’s strictly speaking a DE, and preferably of the 3-4 variety.

  4. Darnell

    He’s got that Omega Phi Sci tattoo, same as Jordan Babs, also is doing the same ‘Money Hat’ celebration as Babs does, and Steve McNair did.

    If the Hawks record is too good to be able to draft a QB I think they have to go edge-rusher – as that’s the next premium position they have to address. I’m not sure about mayne of the potential draft eligible guys. Maybe trade for a likely to be franchised Mario Williams.

    • Kip Earlywine

      Its painful thinking about Seattle’s option if a top QB isn’t one of them. Its early in the process, but this is looking like a very lean first round after the top few picks. I’d love to add an extra pass rusher, but I’m not sure who that would be right now. Maybe Vinny Curry? But he’s more of a late 1st round guy at this stage.

  5. akki

    So if we have trouble getting one of the top QBs and resort to plan B, then it seems like the next thing that needs serious improvement is consistent pass rush. But what’s the best way to improve that? In the base 4-3 for run-downs, we have Clemons-Mebane-Branch-Bryant, and these are guys that the staff acquired/moved specifically for these positions. That’s really only one pass rusher on 1st-and-10 plays, and the staff seems to be accepting of that.

    So which position would it be best to upgrade in order to get that more consistent pass rush? You draft an edge rusher, and he would be seemingly competing for playing time with the guy you already have who can get to the QB. Would you look for a more complete Leo in a Julius Peppers mold and bump Clemons to more of a designated pass-down rusher like Brock plays now? Or would you look for a Warren Sapp type penetrating DT as an upgrade to Branch? Unfortunately, I don’t think you’ve identified anyone worth drafting highly at either position so far.

    Regarding Coples, I feel that there’s some bias toward defensive linemen from North Carolina (or maybe it’s just in my head). It’s almost like when media assumed back in the day that any starting halfback coming out of USC was worth going after. You always seem to see UNC linemen with high profiles ever since they had Greg Ellis and Vonnie Holliday. Problem is, not many have had a big NFL impact lately outside of Peppers.

    • Jmpasq

      Or the best edge rusher of all time Lawrence Taylor

  6. Cullen

    I agree that Coples is overrated and his lack of pass rushing repertoire at this stage is definitely a point of major concern but at the same time I think he plays slightly better in the above video than you make him out to be. While he didn’t look very effective rushing the passer, it’s worth noting that Louisville made a conscious effort to slow him down through double teams, chip blocks, or placing a running back in pass protection on his side of the field. This still doesn’t excuse his struggles with getting to the passer, but he also showed some savvy in helping create lanes for his blitzers such as at the 1:33 mark when he takes his first step outside giving Zach Brown a clear path to the QB or 1:51 when he cuts to the tackles inside shoulder allowing Brown to slip around the edge for another clear shot at the QB. You also say you aren’t convinced that he has the ability to disengage from blocks but he showcases that skill in the video as early as the first two run plays (3rd and 4th plays overall). He also shows the ability to anticipate the snap and is able to explode off the line on a number of plays throughout the video. Paige-Moss who you correctly point to as being overrated really struggles in this regard including his laughably slow movement out of his stance at the 1:06 mark. Overall with Coples, I see a player with enormous potential who is still putting it all together. I agree that he isn’t the highly rated prospect many make him out to be at this stage as he really needs to be more productive in games but I still think he’s a first round prospect and nowhere near as bad as you suggest.

    Zach Brown, on the other hand, has a number of flaws in his game which you overlook. He doesn’t showcase the ability to get off blocks in the run game and goes out of his way to avoid them on a number of plays which hurts his ability to get to the back. He also really struggles with angles, he misses two sacks where he had a direct line on the QB and allows the running back to easily juke him out or get outside of him on a bunch of run plays. His interception was gift wrapped for him by the QB and overall he doesn’t look great in coverage abandoning his zone to chase the QB a few times and often allowing defenders to find soft spots in his zone. He didn’t really stand out as a pass rusher either. He times his blitzes well which is a positive but he relies on pure speed to get to the QB and doesn’t showcase any moves to get past blockers. He’s highly athletic for sure and that aspect of his game translates excellently to the next level but he doesn’t stand out in any other part of the game and has a few issues which will really affect his performance at the next level. I think the UNC defense might be disguising Brown’s deficiencies a little, as there are enough talented players that he’s able to rely on pure athletic ability to make plays without being burned.

    Overall, I think I’d put both guys down as first round picks in my book but I’d only look at them in the later parts of the round as they are both a little overrated and have some serious bust potential. But those are just my thoughts from watching the video which hardly qualifies as an informed position.

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