Quinton Coples: the draft’s greatest mystery

Yeah, that tattoo still looks painful

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. 




  1. Jeriod Klovas

    I want him!!! Hopefully he did enough harm to his draft stock to drop to us a 11/12. We need an elite pass rusher, and I believe he can be that. Even right out the gate he can have a Von Miller-esque impact. The one glaring need on this team after QB is a pass rusher and Coples fits the bill. I would be ecstatic if we drafted him with our first pick.

  2. YDB

    Hopefully he will have a stand out performance at the combine. I would love for him to convincing a team picking in the top ten to become convinced that they could coach him up. That could send one more player down to the 11/12 pick for Seattle.

  3. trj

    Yes, he won’t get past the top 10. As with qb’s, pre-draft hype will inflate his stock and some intrepid/foolish club will take the chance.

    Great blog by the way! Thanks for all your hard work!

  4. Rob

    I can’t imagine the Seahawks drafting this guy. If he can convince one team in the top-ten to make the pick, it could potentially push a more likely candidate into Seattle’s path. But Carroll and Schneider have gone ‘safe’ in previous rounds, and I’m not sure they’ll be the team to roll the dice.

  5. Hawkspur

    I saw an article at Fieldgulls quoting John Schneider on the player evaluation philosophy he learned from Ron Wolf. It would back up what you say about the Seahawks not being likely to be the team to take the risk on Coples:

    “Some of the biggest mistakes, just from a pure evaluation standpoint, that I have made have been from all-star games – because the guy had a real nice week at the Senior Bowl. So I might have gone the other way, and not really truly stuck with my feelings on how I felt about him in the fall.”

  6. PQLQI

    Rob, a few questions.

    Could you see Coples being able to fill the same role you argued for Upshaw – as a hybrid Wil/DE who is there for pass rush and run contain?

    As a fan, would you be more excited on draft day if Goodell announced Coples or Upshaw as the Seahawks’ pick?

  7. Jmpasq

    But its not just the All Star games. He has shown he can play at a high level in College. The problem is Motivation it seems. That is very scary to take a player with that issue in the Top Half of the first round. He seems to be similar to Floridas Carlos Dunlap who also was projected as a Top 5 pick. Now if U could get Coples where the Bengals selected Dunlap at pick number 54 then theres no “?” u do it

  8. Rob

    Hawkspur – Great quote and completely that backs up the idea that Seattle wouldn’t be interested in Coples.

    PQLQI – Unfortunately not, I see Coples exclusively at defensive end, either a 5-tech or power end. Despite the insane physical potential of Coples, I just can’t trust the guy based on tape. It always has to come back to tape, not what happens at the Senior Bowl. It’s a shame, but I’d prefer Upshaw by a long stretch.

  9. Rob

    Absolutely John – in that range you definitely take the gamble. Dunlap was very similar.

  10. dave crockett


    Like many on this board, I am practically salivating as I wait for you to drop the next little morsel. Seahawks draft analysis use to begin and end with Rob Rang for me until I started coming here regularly. This site is just– indispensable.

    Having said that, I’m having trouble following your argument about PC/JS going with “safe” picks early in the draft as a reason to disregard interest in Coples. Earl Thomas and James Carpenter don’t tell a very compelling story about playing it safe early in the draft. Thomas was a no doubt talent for this scheme, so I suppose he was a safe pick. But Carpenter was all athleticism and upside, hardly a safe pick, especially with Gabe Carimi and Derrick Sherrod still available. Golden Tate makes any story about an early emphasis on “safe” picks even less compelling.

    I’m picking this nit because one of the things I like most about PC/JS is that they don’t seem to draw lines in the sand.

    I don’t know the first thing about what motivates Coples. What I do know is that PC/JS will base their interest on interviews and investigation. In Coples’ case it’s pretty clear he coasted. The question is why, and the answer probably isn’t simple. As you note, he switched positions to help the team. He could have come out last year and been a first rounder. So yeah. Lots of questions. But that guy has elite talent, and Seattle should definitely be kicking the tires.

  11. tom page

    Thanks for writing this Rob. When the Senior Bowl ended I said the enigma that is Quinton Coples continues. He is a tremendous athlete, but I have a problem with players that don’t produce during games. He reminds me of Carlos Dunlap, another defensive end with great physical characteristics but limited production and questionable attitude. Dunlap was drafted in the second round. Dunlap is a rotational player in Cincinnati with 14 sacks in two years with 9.5 this past season. Sounds like what a team could expect from Coples.

  12. Rob

    Dave – thanks a lot for the kind words. Help spread the word!

    I see your point on safe picks, but I will counter slightly. Really I think they’ve gone ‘safe’ in round one, but have taken a few chances later on – whether it’s gambling on injuries (Thurmond) athleticism (Tate) or off-field problems (McCoy). But in round one, they’ve looked to get immediate contributors who ‘buy in’ and are solid if not always spectacular. I think Okung was a pretty solid pick (even though at the time, I didn’t think he’d go that early – I wasn’t sold on him to be honest but nearly everyone else was). Thomas like you say fit the scheme and despite being a RS sophomore, he was the BPA at the time. I actually spent a lot of time bigging up Carpenter last year, I really liked the guy and ranked him much higher than Gabe Carimi and slightly higher than Sherrod. If Carpenter had received the same amount of hype (he deserved it) I think we’d look at starting RT at Alabama with experience at LT as a pretty safe pick.

    So far they’ve not gampled on physical quality in three of their picks – they’ve gone for smart, intelligent players who have been part of succesful big programme’s. I think Coples would be a detachment from that, as a guy who is all about potential and physical qualities and not about production, success and great college tape. I know people are probably sick of me going on about Courtney Upshaw – but to me he seems more akin to a PC/JS type pick in round one than Coples and some other players.

    Would they ever take a gamble? I think so, but it’d be a calculated gamble based on small sample sizes (Thomas) rather than a guy who’s been around for a few years and just not really made the most out of his ability. I’m willing to be proven wrong, but I don’t see Coples fitting into Carroll’s plan.

  13. Rob

    Hey Tom – you hit the nail on the head with that post-game assesment. Dunlap and Coples are uncanny in that sense, although I think Dunlap achieved more in college (including MVP of the BCS win in 2009). But they are very similar players in terms of attitude/physical potential.

  14. tom page

    Thanks Rob. I’m starting to think you going on and on about Upshaw is a tease. His game tape does not lie as you have documented. It seems unlikely he will be available when we pick. It seems more likely we take Ingram as a consolation prize or go in a different direction.

  15. Allen

    Coples is by far the best Defensive End available he proved it in the senior bowl. the past is the past, you’re always as good as your last game!

  16. Rob

    Do we not have to consider though Allen that he might go back to old habits when the cheques are cashed? The senior bowl isn’t so much a game as a job interview.

  17. Doug

    Say Rob,
    Would you prefer a DT like Stills over a DE type like Coples/Upshaw? Do you think more inside push would help? I think that Red on the outer edge was an experiment that gets more size overall on the line, but kills any speed. Makes running tougher, but gives the QB more time. That was one of the main reasons we give up so many long pass plays on 3rd down that is one of our deepest weaknesses.
    One of the reasons I like the thought of Coples is moving Red inside more, that would bulk up the interior pressure more as a result causing a bit more havok for Coples and Clemmons to capitolize on.
    Red and Mebane in Coples and Clemons outside… yikes

  18. Rob

    If we were talking about a top-end three-technique I’d probably say the inside guy just because pressure through the middle opens up so many outside lanes. It’s the reason Lawrence jackson is suddenly relevant in Detroit. However – as much as I like Devon Still – he’s not that can’t miss 3-tech in my eyes. There are some injury concerns, he’s dominated as a 5th year senior but before that was a bit sloppy. So looking at players rather than positions, I’d rather go with the edge rusher.

    I can definitely see the benefits of Coples at LE and moving Red inside, but that would be a bit of a shift more towards an orthodox 4-3 and less hybrid. Would they go that route? Possibly. But again it comes down to how they view certain prospects.

  19. Dave P

    Hey rob, just wondering what you think of cam johnson out of UV, i think if we could grab him and sean spence our D would be a pretty solid and then grab a kirk cousins in whatever round, i feel it would a great draft

  20. Doug

    lol, I just visited a few mock’s and lo and behold, all of a sudden dude is in the 6-10 range in all the post-game mocks… figures…

  21. Rob

    Dave P – really like the guy. Not good production this year but always looked good when I watched Virginia. Solid second rounder for me.

  22. YDB

    Rob, I tend to agree with you that any calculated risk taken by the front office would favor toward the small sample size type ( a la Earl Thomas). This leads me to think Brockers must high on the Sea-board.

    My question is, how close are Brockers and Still in regard to technique, upside, and scheme fit? Also, how do these two compare and contrast with players currently on the roster (specifically Branch). Do either of these two look like day one starters?

  23. Vandehawk

    Hopefully Coples did well enough to push Upshaw to the Seahawks and I would love to see Kirk Cousins in Seahawk Blue. I am excited about what the Hawks will do in the first round but may almost be more so to see what they can come up with in later rounds. I also like what Kip talked about in a recent discussion discussing the possibility of a WR in first round. What do you think about the Hawks possibly re-signing John Carlson? The reason I ask is I have seen the TE from Stanford mocked to the Hawks in the 2nd or possibly 3rd round, what do you think about that possibility?

  24. Michael

    First off this is a well managed site and i do enjoy all of your hard work! Second im dreaming here but lets say seattle brought in mario williams to replace red bryant and put him back at dt next to mebane and we have a nother year to look for young elite pass rushers. With that my daydream shared I believe the hawks drop way back or out of the first round. So im looking at late picks anyways and im not seeing great weakside linebackers. What are the chances seattle drafts a middle linebacker and bring back hawthorne or hill to man the weak side again while building up the dline with late round talent like last year they took three stabs at the secondary hopeing one would stick. My question is rob who are highly reguarded 3-7 rd talented pass rushers who would be looked at by rob and pete?

  25. Michael

    Sorry looked at by john and pete…

  26. John

    Rob, keep the articles coming, I’m an addict for Hawk draft analysis.

    Quick question. Could you see PC/JS drafting Luke Kuechly? I know he doesn’t add much in terms of pass rush, but his instincts and knowledge of the game remind me of Tatupu, and I believe he can become an elite LB, and a great defensive leader. Just food for thought, if Upshaw is available I’d still like to take him at 12.

    Also, several other sites that I follow say Kirk Cousins is a career back up type QB, and assuming PC/JS are interested, do you think he can become a legitimate starter for Seattle?

  27. Rugby Lock

    What about Alameda Ta’amu? He seemed to do well at the SB… where would he be projected? Looks like what the Hawks want… A DT who can collapse the pocket.

  28. Doug

    The reality of all this is pure speculation, as nobody knows what will happen during free agency, and that alone will totally throw everybodys mocks into the sewer. There WILL be a few high profile players that move, and that will alter what happens. Then the ripple effect occurs, and everything gets shifted. Same with draft day trades.

    We will eventually saw through all the good players, and have a top 30-40 guys, as well as having a top 5 or six. Then we will have about ten different players that we “could” draft in our slot.

    Barring a total miracle trade up, we will never get a sniff at the Blue-chip players like:
    Luck, RG3, Kahil, Claiborne, Trent Richardson, Blackmon, and Coples

    After those guys, it’s a free-for-all for players in the second tier like:
    Reiff, Still, Upshaw, Martin, Floyd, Ingram, Brokers, DeCastro, Kirkpatrick, Perry, Wright, etc…

    Then, for you QB wanters:
    Osweiler, Tannehil, Cousins, Foles, Weeden, and the such.

    It is my belief that we will be choosing somebody from list #2

  29. jim J

    Looking at the entire defensive draft, we will want a DE, DT, CB and possibly a LB. We could get the 1st or 2nd ranked DE or DT at either position. I think there are a few less quality DEs than DTs so I would go for a DE like Coples or Upshaw in the first round. The upside of upshaw is you can also play him at LB. There is a chance that Trent Richardson could fall – but I’ve just been talking defense so I’ll skip that thought.

    Second round, I would love to get one of the big DTs like Alameda Ta’amu or Dontari Poe that are nose tackle size. Let the other team double team him, thats more room for us to blitz the QB.

    We do have to draft for both positions so that we have injury replacements and so we can rotate players and keep them fresh.

  30. Tarry

    I want Coples to go in the first 10 picks, Luck, Griffen, Kalil are for sure gone… that leaves only 6 or 7 other picks to hopefully open the door for Richardson, Claiborne or Upshaw to slip to 11/12

  31. Tarry

    *7 or 8 haha, not 6 or 7

  32. jim J

    One of them will slip down to us. Who knows, it may even be Blackmon.

  33. andymuhs

    I personally don’t want a guy with a questionable motor. Way rather trade down if possible and pick up Cousins or Osweiler at the tail end of the first and get Vinny Curry in the second. Now that guy has an unquestionable motor. I liked what I saw from Coples but anyone without heart will NEVER be a pro bowler. Vinny Curry seems like he’s “chips in”

  34. Brian

    Is it possible Coples was playing to avoid injury in the regular season?

  35. Richardfg7

    No way!!! We want guys that always play hard. Not just when they want to. What will he do when he gets some big money & decides it’s more fun to drink, smoke, & chase girls ? This years draft can be a big step up if they hit right. I would not gamble with the top picks at all. And I see Coples as a guy who could boom or bust.

  36. Darnell

    An argument could also be made for the leadership core on the Hawks D that is no in place. ET,Red and the boys probably wouldn’t allow Coples to not give it his all.

  37. Darnell

    *now in place

  38. genax

    hey rob

    if coples is available and after he passes the interview process with carroll and company and if he appeals to them i think you have to draft a player like coples, simply because of his potential.

    yes the probability is high that he would fail. but he’s one of those top de candidates that comes out only once a few years am i wrong? i think he’s an instant impact player and can keep clemons fresh, that’s exactly what we need. i think clemons is good for at least 3 years if healthy. he’s in terrific shape

  39. Scott

    @Brian I think it is very clear Coples was avoiding injury to make sure he gets paid. Watch his bowl game footage, it is extremely uninspired. With “buying in” being so important to this FO, I don’t see a player who clearly makes business decisions mid game being in play for us.

    Buffalo is switching to a 4-3 this year. I see him going there quite possibly.

  40. Me Ne Frego

    The Hawks are a pass rusher away from being an elite defense. There’s a guy who has a similar build from NC playing for Chicago that has been known to take plays off and not always be terribly motivated. In a draft that appears to have little elite talent, I’ll roll the dice on a guy like Coples.

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