2012 NFL Draft Preview: North Carolina

North Carolina DE Quinton Coples May Be a Top-10 Pick in the 2012 NFL Draft

Leading up to this month’s NFL Draft, we’ll be taking a look at each ACC‘s school’s prospects and where they’re slated to be chosen. While 43 ACC players were invited to the NFL Draft Combine, those not in attendance also have ample opportunity to hear their name called between April 26 and 28.

Several pieces from the vaunted North Carolina defense will be up for grabs in this year’s draft — most notably Quinton Coples and Zach Brown. While several of these former Tar Heels leave the program with an air of scandal attached, that’s unlikely to have any effect on their extremely promising pro careers.

Quinton Coples, DE, Senior

As a 6’5″, 285-pound monster coming off the end, Coples is a horrifying sight for most offensive linemen, regardless of ability. With a nice first move, and a nose for affecting the play in a variety of ways, the Heels’ leader in sacks and tackles last year promises to make an impact from the get-go. In run defense, he already possesses a pro-level skill set when it comes to containing runners from hitting the edge. As for passing, while Coples excels at getting to the quarterback, his true value comes not in getting that big sack, but forcing quarterbacks out of their comfort zone and into poor throws. Already projecting to be a star at the NFL level, he’s seen as a top-10 pick; the type of talent you can’t miss if you have a hole to fill on the defensive line. While this type of rhetoric is bounced around both successes and failures in the draft, Coples projects well into the right 4-3 system.

Zach Brown, LB, Senior

Mildly undersized for the outside linebacker position (he’s just 6’1″ and around 245 pounds). Brown is still being pushed quickly up draft boards as the big day nears. The highlights right off the bat — a 4.5 40-time; the type of number scouts would drool over for many offensive skill positions, and is a rarity at linebacker. On top of that, he’s got the tangible results to prove just how much that speed matters. Check out his 105 tackles, his 13.5 stops for loss or his three forced fumbles. More impressive still, he comes up when needed most — recording 14 tackles and an interception in this year’s Independence Bowl. Folks see him as a perfect fit for a 3-4, especially with his proficiency to quickly get to the edge before ball-carriers. Expect him to be selected late in the first round.

Dwight Jones, WR, Senior

Jones is a sure-handed assassin, good for at least one long-ball per game (he caught a pass of 30 or more yards in seven of his 13 games). At 6’3″, 230 pounds he’s a physical receiver who excels as a number-one target, but would also serve as a dangerous distraction as the third option early in his NFL career. While his 4.55 40-time isn’t overly impressive, it’s still a great time, plus his one key skill is what matters most of all — getting to the end zone. He pulled in 12 last season, and obviously improved over time. If he can actively add some upper-body strength, he becomes a much more physical, imposing target over time. Expect a team to buy on speculation and take him in the fifth round.

Tydreke Powell, DT, Senior

Despite his slow move off the line (runs a 5.36 40), Powell’s still spent his Tar Heel career as a constant disruption. Not only does he get after the quarterback, but he also forces turnovers and actually performs better as a feature piece of a front-four than he does a distraction. The big knocks on him — besides his lack of speed — his numbers have gone down over his career, and he’s never truly risen to heightened expectations. On the positive end, he’s a team leader who rarely misses time. Bolstering upper arm strength, and showing a better first move could solidify his place in the fifth round, but he’s more likely for the sixth right now.

Charles Brown, CB, Senior

Brown has shown a penchant for covering receivers tight and batting down a good amount of passes (he had six deflections and two picks in 2011). And while he’s also established himself as a great open-field tackler at the collegiate level, there are still some lingering doubts about how well his game translates to the NFL. At just 5’9″, 202 pounds, he’s extremely undersized, even for playing the corner, and his 4.63 speed only exacerbates matters. The choice then comes down to playing him at CB in a contain role, or shifting him over to safety, while losing some of his obvious pass-defense skills. His first chance in the pros may come with special teams, but he’s a probable sixth or seventh-round pick who can work his way into defensive reps.

Donte Paige-Moss, DE, Junior

A character issue and head case, Paige-Moss basically imploded himself out of UNC on his way to a most unceremonious declaration for the 2012 NFL Draft. While his inconsistent 2011 failed to impressive all that much, his 2010 will be the foundation his resume’s built on. If scouts like what they saw during that seven-sack, 77-tackle season, he’ll be chosen late in the Draft. If not, it could be a very long few days for him. Sure, teams have overlooked character issues in the past, but usually not when bunched up with the other issues Paige-Moss has to offer. A misdemeanor assault on the record, ACL surgery, hostility toward fans and a definite impression of not trying too hard, he’s got an uphill battle, but may get the call come the late seventh round.

Ryan Houston, FB, Senior

Houston’s a pretty serviceable fullback, though he excels at the one element of the game his position’s calling less and less for: running the ball. Called on more as a blocker or extra receiver out of the backfield, pro fullbacks play a far different role than Houston’s used to at UNC, and it’ll be a quick and difficult adjustment for him should he make a team. Ideally, his time in camp would be spent catching passes, but that said, he also knows how to pound in into the end zone from short yardage. His relatively slow 4.82 40-time really stops him from being used as a consistent third-down back, but goal-line carries are still a real possibility. In all likelihood, he’s not getting drafted, but could very well make a team come camp time.

Previously: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami (FL), NC State

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