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One of the most heavily debated prospects in the 2012 NFL Draft is North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples. The 6-foot-6, 284-pounder has a rare combination of size and speed. He is a prototype defensive end in a 4-3 defense, and many evaluators believe he has the flexibility to play defensive tackle, 3-4 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker.
WalterFootball.com caught up with Coples to discuss how things are going for him in the pre-draft process. Coples, as you may know, has been the subject of a lot of debate as NFL Network analysts like Mike Mayock have knocked Coples' play in 2011. They've criticized him for his production and effort.
In an interview with NFL Network's Charley Casserly, Coples was asked to grade his 2011 performance. He gave himself a C, but told us that he was referring to his production; not his effort. Coples maintained that he gave good effort all season and that he always has lofty goals for his production.
"Yes, definitely I meant production and not effort, the coaches have told me they thought I had a good season. I think the other stuff is all from the media overall, but the coaches have told me that I've done well and they think I'll make a big impact in the NFL.
"Coaches said they see the talent and they liked what they saw. They gave me some things to work on and pointers on what I can do to improve. I just take it for what it is, and at the end of the day I'm just preparing to help my NFL team next season."
One game that Coples can point to for proof of his effort was the matchup against Georgia Tech. Coples didn't have many runs come his direction, but he was pursuing downfield to get in on tackles.
Coples, who registered 55 tackles with 15 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2011, faced consistent double teams, but steadily pressured the quarterback. He also had a few sacks that were called back because of penalties against his teammates.
Coples had a dominant week at the Senior Bowl. Coples regularly destroyed offensive linemen with a combination of strength and speed. He was a tough run defender while being an overwhelming pass-rusher. In the one-on-one reps, Coples won the vast majority of his battles. He repeatedly and resoundingly beat Florida State offensive tackle Zebrie Sanders. It wasn't even close. Coples also had wins against Georgia' guard/tackle Cordy Glenn. Both of those linemen entered the week in Mobile as potential first-round picks. Glenn has remained a consensus first-rounder, while Sanders is a Day 2 prospect.
Coples has made official pre-draft visits to the Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams. All four of those teams pick in the top 10, so while media pundits are knocking him down, NFL teams seem to be expressing that he will be selected very early on Thursday night.
"I've visited four teams. I felt they went well. We went over film on me. I met with several coaches and it was nice to get an introduction to the business side of the NFL ... I don't have any other visits at the moment, but anything can happen."
It wouldn't be surprising if Coples is drafted by another team in the top 20 picks that hasn't had him in for a visit. He has generated a lot of interest from a number of other teams including Chicago, Seattle, Dallas and Tennessee. Coples didn't have a prediction of where he would end up on Draft Day.
"It is really up and down. There are a lot of teams that have shown interest. It is hard to know where you're going. The anticipation level is up high."
One thing that impacted Coples in his senior season was the North Carolina program being in turmoil. Head coach Butch Davis was fired before the season and the Tar Heels had a lot of adversity as a program. During his visit with Tampa Bay, Coples was able to catch up with his former coach. Davis is a senior advisor to Bucs' head coach Greg Schiano. Coples said that Davis showed Coples how he would fit with the Buccaneers in an attacking 4-3 defense similar to how he played for Davis at North Carolina.
"I definitely had a great time with them. I got a chance to spend some time with Coach Davis and just catch up. We talked about a lot of things."
Coples also took and extended visit to the Panthers. Carolina could use help at defensive tackle and defensive end, so it could select Coples and draw on a deep class of tackles to land a quality interior lineman in the second round. In reflecting on his trip to the Panthers, Coples sounded very upbeat.
"It was great. It was definitely a lot of fun and there are a lot of great people over there. They definitely showed me a great time. I had fun with them. They showed me their defensive ends and their scheme. We went over some board work and had a great time. "
Coples could help fill needs for the Panthers at defensive end or tackle, and apparently they aren't the only team that feels that way. As a junior, Coples played a lot of defensive tackle, and he could add some more weight to play tackle in a 4-3 defense in the NFL. Coples said teams have discussed that with him.
"It came up. St. Louis asked me about that, and I told them I'm willing to do whatever it takes. If that's they need me to do then that is what I'll do."
If he is drafted into a 3-4 defense, Coples said he believes that he could play 3-4 defensive end or stand up outside linebacker. As a senior at North Carolina, the Tar Heels had a 3-4 package with Coples playing the five technique at end. He performed well in that role using his strength and length to set the edge.
"I definitely have had a lot of conversations with 3-4 teams and they've gone well. They talked a lot about me playing the five technique and I said I'd jump in wherever they needed me."
Coples also has some experience as a 3-4 rush linebacker.
"I feel like I can do either. Once they give me a position I'll adjust to it. Yeah I could add weight or drop. It depends on what the position coach likes, and I'll just go from there. I've played all those positions in the past, so I know how to play them. I'm confident I can do whatever the coaches ask of me in the NFL."
Coples definitely has the physical talent to be a difference maker on Sundays. Whichever team lands him could be adding a special player. If his pre-draft visits are any indication, he could be going to a team picking in the top 10 despite the talk swirling in the media.