Every year there is a top talent in the NFL draft that is heavily questioned, criticized and knocked because of apparent issues on the field. This year's target is North Carolina defensive lineman Quinton Coples.
Aside from the two quarterbacks that are expected to go at the top of April's draft, Coples is arguably the best player available, but what's hanging up many from grading him as high is his apparent lack of work ethic on a snap by snap basis on Saturdays, which is said to be visible in his hand use which I'll cover later.
However, I do not see a lack of work ethic or drive from Coples while watching him on tape, but rather a dominant athlete that simply sees himself as superior to others.
First, the physical characteristics of a prospect are important, as I've said numerous times and is well known. Coples passes the eye test with flying colors.
At the NFL Combine, Coples stood tall at nearly 6'6" and weighed in at 284 pounds. He also had over 33" long arms to go along with over 10" hands. His exceptional body frame and length explains the flashes of dominance and overwhelming of blockers on tape at various positions along the defensive line.
Coples' frame was an important part of his game and it helped him make a transition to the interior defensive line on multiple occasions, most notably his junior year when he was primarily a 3-technique defensive tackle. I felt that he played well last year at the spot despite being not completely familiar with it and its nuances.
Along with 3-technique, Coples slid in and played 1-technique at times, in which he also did well. His naturally long arms and strength enabled him to control the opposition and hold his ground with a strong base.
But Coples is likely to get his biggest evaluation from the 5-technique or defensive end alignment, where he played his most significant snaps at last season. This versatility is a big factor in Coples' grade, in my opinion, and will benefit his stock.
This is one of the mind-boggling aspects of Coples' game that is the source of all questions surrounding the phenomenal talent. Because of quality arm length and natural power, Coples would be expected to be able to control blocks and gain leverage with greater ease than other athletes; however, he does not.
He often struggles to play with quality pad level and hand use even though he is successful in winning matchups. His pad level can be deemed "too tall," as scouts like to say, because he is nearly erect when he's making contact.
Coples also does not use his hands appropriately, as he'll fail to gain leverage against blockers because he does not consistently get his hands inside of the breast pads. Due to this issue, he leaves his own chest area exposed, which allows blockers to get the advantage.
Despite it, they did not always have great success against him in this aspect of the matchups. It was because of his natural talent. He is simply physically dominant and is able to overpower them as well as use his quick hands to slap the blocker's hands away. The latter characteristic of his game is something that he does well but not enough.
Coples does not have elite explosiveness. He is not an electric sack artist in my opinion, but he is good enough to get the job done. Because of his physical presence, he is still able to win matchups and still provide some explosiveness off the line of scrimmage.
Once he becomes comfortable at the next level and gets proper coaching, as well as hopefully taking the teaching in, he'll be able to anticipate snap counts and get a head start on blockers.
However, to reiterate, I am not saying he lacks the quickness off the edge to play the end position. He does not. He has good enough quickness to be an every down end at the NFL in my opinion.
This part of his game is one that I particularly like, as I think it is a strong quality of Coples' talent. He is able to make plays down the line of scrimmage and stay on his feet in the process.
Because of his power, Coples is a quality run defender. His footwork is not always proper, but he's able to maintain a strong base and win at the point of attack against blockers which enables him to be a good run defender in college. If or when he gets proper technique and pad level at the NFL level, he'll become a dominant run defender.
Is Coples a top 5 talent?
North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples is one of the best talents in the 2012 NFL Draft because of his great physical ability. He possesses great stature and power to go along with natural talents that could possibly enable him to become a complete defensive end at the next level and live up to his billing. He is a highly criticized athlete at the moment, with draftniks citing his lack of work ethic, but he does not appear to have this issue on tape in my opinion. He's worthy of a top-10 pick because of the upside and talent he possesses.