College Football Analysis: Will North Carolina's Quinton Coples Impress vs. Missouri?

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With the college football season coming to an end and NFL Draft season beginning, there becomes a lot of speculation surrounding a player’s draft stock improving with a strong performance in a bowl game. Over the next week, we will be taking a look at a few players who may be relying on their bowl performance in one way or another.

Quinton Coples is said to be one of the players that can help his stock with a productive outing in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl against Missouri on December 26th.

Before the season, Coples was thought to possibly be a top 5 draft pick – bettering former Tar Heel DE Robert Quinn’s 14th pick in 2011 Draft. As the season nears its end, there seems to be a mixed bag regarding Coples. One thing that appears to be agreed upon is that Coples is naturally the most talented defensive end in the class. Where the argument seems to lie is whether he will be the #1 overall DE selected in the top 10, or if his draft stock has slipped over the course of the season mainly due to his failure to play hard every snap.

With a few million dollars on the line, a strong outing by Coples against a solid Missouri offense may sway a few NFL-ers who are on the fence about drafting him early.

Missouri’s offense enters the game an FBS 12th-best with 472.4 yards of total offense, splitting the ground (236.2 ypg) and air (236.2 ypg) attacks evenly. Dual-threat QB James Franklin leads the Tigers with 199 carries and has gained 839 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. Franklin came into this season replacing the departed Blaine Gabbert, with very large shoes to fill. The sophomore has more touchdown passes (20 to 16), and a higher passer rating (141.2 to 127.0), while keeping even with Gabbert in completion percentage (63.3% to 63.4%) despite attempting more than 120 fewer passes than Gabbert did last season. Franklin has thrown for 2740 yards, and combined with his rushing yards he has become the nation’s 15th-ranked player in total offense (297.7 ypg).

Last year, Coples finished the season with 59 total tackles (33 solo), 15.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 12 QB Hurries, two passes broken up, and two forced fumbles. This campaign, Coples has anchored the Tar Heels defense, but his productivity has declined, ending the regular season with 51 total tackles (26 solo), 13 TFL, 7.5 sacks, six QB hurries, two passes broken up and three forced fumbles.

I turned to editor of and contributor Michael Felder, who is a former Tar Heel defensive back and very familiar with the program to give some insight on Coples.

What do you think the decline in draft stock can be attributed to?

On paper the answer would be simple; production is down for the senior. Less sacks, less tackles for loss and less quarterback hurries in 2011 than he had in 2010. The real answer is a bit more complex than that when the games get turned on. Coples allowed himself to be blocked more. Didn’t generate the push or the holding and false start penalties you expect to see out of an elite defensive end threat. Basically it boils down to allowing himself to be blocked, disappearing for long stretches of the game and not showing the motor on a play in and play out basis.

Do you feel a strong showing in the bowl game can raise his stock?

It won’t hurt him but the NFL isn’t silly. They watch more than one game and while a good showing in Shreveport will be a positive for Coples the fact is they will still see the drop off in 2011, the effort from 2010 and his growth from the limited time he saw in his previous seasons.

I know you’re not big on mocks, but if you had to venture a guess, where would you have Coples?

I’m not big on what number he goes, I’m more of a board guy personally. The thing about Coples is he’s got the versatile ability to play the 4-3 defensive end, the 3-4 long stick end and a 4-3 defensive tackle in a pinch. The kid is versatile, he’s athletic and what that does is make him attractive to more teams in the league and put him at different spots on everyone’s board. Right now he is still the best option at the defensive end position; an every down guy equally adept at stopping the run and pass unlike the lighter options of Frank Alexander, Brandon Jenkins or Whitney Mercilus.

Dory LeBlanc, covers Gator sports for Gators First and Not just a college sports enthusiast, Dory is also a fan of NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB. Born outside Philly, she moved to Tampa, and now resides in Illinois, giving her a broad perspective on the sporting world. You can follow Dory on twitter @DoryLeBlanc