In some scouting circles, North Carolina's Quinton Coples was the highest-rated senior prospect heading into the 2011 season. He had flourished at defensive tackle in 2010, but was switched to end in 2011, a move many believed would result in an even more productive year.
That did not happen.
When I interviewed teams about Coples after the season, I received similarly negative reports. They felt he underachieved. This raised questions about his desire to play.
It's the kiss of death when a player's desire to play is questioned. Some questioned whether Coples played not to get hurt. After seeing two of his former teammates, Robert Quinn and Marvin Austin, miss their senior season after breaking NCAA rules and still get drafted high, some NFL personnel believe it might've caused Coples to play cautious to protect himself. Others indicated to me the removal of Butch Davis as head coach had a major effect on how Coples played. Davis and Coples were very close.
When I interviewed Coples recently on NFL Network's "Path To The Draft," I asked him if he played not to get hurt this past season. He denied it. When I asked him to grade his effort this past season, he only gave himself a "C." That was disturbing.
I watched Coples play four games during the 2011 campaign, as well as the Senior Bowl. A good part of the time, he lined up in a four-point stance in a head-up position on the offensive player. The rest of the time, he lined up outside the offensive player, thus giving him room to operate and use his athletic ability. It was like watching two different players.
When he lined up wide, you could see him use his speed and athletic ability to put pressure on the QB. In that position, he was hard to block. He could affect the game that way. When he lined up in the head-up position, he was ineffective. He was slow to shed blocks. He would play high. He lacked consistent intensity. Was it a lack of effort or instincts? The way to answer that question is to look at tape with Coples and ask him to talk you through each play, explaining why he did certain things.
In game film from 2010, I saw a much better player. Coples primarily played DT, but also played a different style. The coaches asked him to come off the ball hard and not to sit at the line of scrimmage and read the blocking schemes. He played much better. He rushed the passer well. He played the run more physical. His effort was not an issue.
I think Coples is a prospect who needs to be in a style of play where he comes hard off the ball and has some room to operate, with not a lot to read at the line of scrimmage. This is when he has played like a first-round pick.
But teams still will need to feel comfortable about his desire to play. To further examine this aspect of his game, I would do three things:
1. Watch the tape of his games from the past two years along with the Senior Bowl and have him explain what he did on every play.
2. Put him through an intense workout to see how he responds.
3. Interview both current and former personnel at North Carolina about him.
If he passes these three tests, I would take him in the first round, but not in the top 10.
I would keep it simple for Coples during his rookie season and use him primarily on nickel to allow him to concentrate on one thing: rushing the passer. His ideal position would be DE. This is the best way for him to gain confidence and be successful.
If you take him, you have to believe that his play in 2011 was a result of not being used properly.
Follow Charley Casserly on Twitter @CharleyCasserly