There is a week to go before the NFL Draft, and it's time for our another scouting report on one of the small core of players that the Miami Dolphins figure to consider with the eighth overall pick.
If you haven't read my scouting report on Stanford guard David DeCastro, please click here.
Today, my attention turns to the highly-talented, but equally enigmatic Quinton Coples, a 6'6", 285-pound defensive lineman from North Carolina.
Coples had 7.5 sacks in 2011, and his press clippings would suggest that either he or South Carolina defensive end/ outside linebacker Melvin Ingram is this draft's top pass rusher.
The downside in drafting Coples would be the perception, justified or not, that he takes plays off and doesn't give maximum effort always on the ones he does take part in.
So, is Coples the next Julius Peppers (another former talented Tar Heel defensive end) or just another physical athletic freak without the drive to succeed?
Let's take a look.
Coples is a very good athlete. I stop just short of calling him elite because he doesn't have that explosive first step as a pass rusher. What he does have is long legs that cover a lot of ground in a hurry. On one play against the University of Miami, I saw him cover a seemingly hopeless distance to the quarterback with one stride and a leaping tackle.
The flip side is that Coples' long legs work against him in a couple of ways.
First, he looks very uncomfortable in his three-point stance as a defensive end, and it keeps him from being compact and coiled and getting that quick first step at the snap of the ball.
More importantly, he doesn't bend the corner particularly well on his outside pass rusher.
There were several instances when he was matched up against Missouri offensive tackle Justin Britt and slipped or took a key extra step to get around the blocker. One play in particular where Coples couldn't quite get his balance gave Missouri quarterback James Franklin just enough time to throw a touchdown pass.
That being said, Coples' long legs and arms allow him to consistently get in the opponent's backfield.
Interestingly, when Coples plays defensive tackle, even at his height he seems to be able to prevent offensive linemen from getting under his pads on a regular basis, which is a credit to his strength and flexibility.
While this appears to be the biggest question about Coples, there are still things to like about this player. He consistently shows the ability to make plays against the run and the pass.
One critical element I've noticed is that when he lines up at defensive tackle, he seems to make more "football" plays from that position than solely as a pass-rushing end. He has uncanny strength when he wants to shed run blocks at the point of attack and make tackles with his other arm. Physically, he is rarely stopped on a play. He doesn't get pushed back or pancaked.
Unfortunately, he does tend to give less than maximum effort on some plays.
The tape of North Carolina's embarrassing loss to Missouri in this past season's Independence Bowl is a microcosm of why Coples is so frustrating and such a tease to scouts.
Consider this back-to-back play sequence from the game:
With Missouri in the red zone, Tigers tight end Michael Egnew (who Coples outweighs by about 40-50 pounds) comes in motion and pushes Coples just out of the way for quarterback Franklin to run for a significant gain.
Then Coples "turns his motor on" to shed a much better block than Egnew's and stop the running back for a loss.
Once North Carolina got down by a couple of scores to Missouri in the first half, Coples could be seen with his hands on his hips and appeared increasingly disgruntled with every significant Tigers gain.
His speed rushes become less and less frequent, and on some plays that he doesn't feel will come to him, he barely moves.
Defenders of Coples' effort in the 2011 season,will suggest that the firing of Tar Heels head coach Butch Davis and the ongoing investigation of the UNC program mitigate concerns about the individual player, but a large part of succeeding in the NFL is how you deal with adversity, and the concerns about Coples are justified.
In short, his maturity and how it affects his competitiveness is a serious question mark.
Typically, Coples has a good idea of whether the play is headed in his direction or not. He will bite on ball fakes, and I caught him with a poor reaction to read-option plays on multiple occasions.
While he has the ability, I can't remember him chasing a play down the field to make a tackle.
He does anticipate the snap of the ball pretty well, and it allowed him to get such a jump on one play that I swore he was offsides until I played the tape back. This will be a key asset for him, as I already stressed he does not have an explosive first step.
Coples' strength is by far his best on-field asset. He bull rushes blockers backward with ease and often disengages blockers with one arm while making the tackle with the other. I mentioned earlier that he succeeds at defensive tackle despite obvious concerns about leverage due to his 6'6" frame. Even if a blocker gets under his pads, he has the strength to rip away from the offensive player.
He also splits double-teams with ease and has a variety of pass-rushing moves such as "rips" and "swims" that allow him to use his powerful long arms for full effect.
He is very rarely cut block because of his quick hands and feet. While he is not explosive off the snap, he can and often does explode into a tackle.
Quinton Coples is one of the more interesting prospects I have scouted this season. He features elite measurables (as a further example, Coples runs under a 4.8 40-yard dash, which is pretty amazing for a player his size) but far less than elite intangibles (motor and maturity).
He had 10 sacks as a defensive tackle in 2010, and I see the interior as his future in the NFL if he plays in a 4-3.
Talent-wise, he could be a 3-4 end, but I don't know how his ego would fit with the decreased individual statistics that often come with playing that position.
Someone will gamble early on his physical talent, and he typically does make a significant play or two during games. Just be prepared that he might also disappear in a crucial situation.
Overall Grade: 6.5
How he fits with the Dolphins
Miami general manager Jeff Ireland comes from the Bill Parcells school of thought, preferring big and strong players.
That makes Coples a definite option at pick eight. That being said, Miami's need for an elite pass rusher from the defensive end or outside linebacker position to take pressure off of Cameron Wake won't be filled by Coples. He is not fast enough or able to win the leverage battle enough times to get around the corner consistently in the NFL.
Being an elite bull-rusher with natural ability might have been enough in college, but it won't be in the pro ranks.
The UNC product figures to be more successful inside at the next level, and while his versatility to play anywhere on the defensive line is a plus, I really think the Dolphins should look in another direction at number eight.