Summary: Coples enters the 2012 NFL Draft as the top 4-3 defensive end. He had a breakout 2010 season with 10 sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss, 59 tackles and two forced fumbles as a junior. He also showed the flexibility to rush from the inside at defensive tackle. His speed and quickness was a difficult task for guards.
In his senior season, Coples faced constant double teams, but stayed reasonably productive. He totaled 55 tackles with 15 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and a plethora of quarterback hurries. North Carolina also went to a 3-4 defense at times, and Coples played well as a five-technique defensive end. At the Senior Bowl, Coples was dominant in the one-on-one pass rushing drills and showed that he will make offenses pay when they single block him. He absolutely destroyed offensive tackle Zebrie Sanders with speed rushes around the corner and bull rushes through the right tackle. It was an impressive week that confirmed Coples' high draft grade.
When Coples gets leverage, it is over. He has too much strength for tackles to hold back and is too fast for them to recover to move in front of. In the NFL, he would be best as a 4-3 defensive end where he can rush the passer with free abandon. Coples has the strength and size to be left defensive end, and when lining up there, his speed has been too much for right tackles to handle. He also has the speed to battle left tackles as a right defensive end. Left tackles don't typically see ends with Coples' power, size and speed. Coples is a solid run defender who holds his ground and can disrupt running plays that go the perimeter on his side. If Coples lands with a good coach who keeps him motivated and focused, he could be a Pro Bowl defensive end.
Player Comparison: Will Smith. Both Smith and Coples are defensive ends who are heavier than typical speed rushers. Both can use length and strength to beat offensive tackles. Smith and Coples have a speed element to their game, but do not the blinding speed of rushers like Jason Pierre-Paul or Julius Peppers.
For the New Orleans Saints, Smith has had a fine pro career. Smith (6-3, 282) has totaled 61.5 sacks in eight seasons with a career high of 13 sacks in 2009. In the 2004 NFL Draft, Smith was viewed as a high draft pick but slid to the 18th selection. A drop that far is unlikely for Coples, but it is possible that he could get into the 10-12 range. In the NFL, Coples could be a rusher and have a career that is comparable to Smith's.
NFL Matches: Jacksonville, Miami, Buffalo, Seattle, Philadelphia
The Jaguars are the first team that has a need for a 4-3 end, and Coples could easily land in Jacksonville with the seventh pick. If he gets past them, it would be surprising if he fell past Buffalo. They have the 10th pick and badly need defensive ends. The Seahawks need a defensive end and sit at 12. The Eagles are at 15 and may find Coples too good to pass on even though they have more pressing needs. However, it is a real stretch to see Coples getting past the Bills or the Seahawks.