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Quinton Coples is an intriguing prospect.

The Early Read: Quinton Coples

Continuing our Early Read feature series, we look at another player the Bucs may look towards at the top of the 2012 draft.

If you listen to our podcast (and if you don’t, you should) you heard Josh pose a very good question in this week’s shows. What happens if, like seems to be the ill-fated case with this organization, things don’t shake out for Tampa on draft day? What happens if the Bucs can’t trade down and Morris Claiborne has already been selected?

We’ve already talked about Morris Claiborne, we’ll be featuring him soon, but as many agree he would be the ideal selection should the Bucs opt to use that pick at five. But what if he’s gone, where do the Bucs go? Who do they pick? What happens?

In that case the Bucs are sent back to the drawing board. They need to address their secondary, but there’s not another DB in the draft worthy of being taken that high. They could look at their offensive line (that would be better than taking a back), but that may require reaching on a tackle and unfortunately they’ve got a lot of money tied up in their hapless left tackle already. Chances are they go defense and try to add another pass-rusher.

That’s where I like Quinton Coples.

Now I’ve said all along my first two choices (in order) would be trading back or grabbing Claiborne. In lieu of those two Coples is really growing on me.

Quinton Coples is a 6’6, 280 lb defensive end out of UNC. He’s an athletic marvel and he’s arguably one of the most dynamic defensive players in the draft.

North Carolina is quickly gaining a reputation as a very good school to draft defensive linemen from. Butch Davis, who is no longer there, is an exceptionally gifted recruiter. At the University of Miami he recruited a number of top-tier defensive linemen such as Damione Lewis, Vince Wilfork, Kenard Lang and William Joseph. That trend continued almost a decade later when Davis headed to Chapel Hill and got top-rated players like Robert Quinn, Marvin Austin and Coples to play for the Tar Heels.

This week at Senior Bowl practice Coples has shined. Yesterday, competing against Florida State offensive tackle Zebrie Sanders and other linemen at the Senior Bowl Coples was regularly the most disruptive player on the field.

That’s relevant too because Sanders is graded as a late first-early second round tackle. He’s not a hack, he’s a solid lineman and Coples was able to gain the upper hand regularly with power moves and quickness off the line.

The Tar Heel DE has prototype size and athleticism right now, and will become explosive as he adds more strength to his frame. He’s already, before ever playing an NFL down or getting NFL-caliber coaching, got a more developed pass rushing repertoire (swim moves, finesse moves, power moves) than any of the heralded young prospects currently on the Bucs line.

Coples could develop into a dynamic edge rusher and will be capable of playing defensive end in any defense (4-3 or 3-4), but should the new D-coordinator choose to stick with the 4-3 alignment Tampa has typically featured, Coples has the added benefit of being versatile enough to move inside and play a three or five technique at defensive tackle.

It’s that versatility, moreso than his very high-end athleticism and massive potential, that really sells me on Coples.

The Bucs have invested a lot in their defensive line and they have seen very little return. Brian Price has struggled with injury issues and questions about discipline, Bowers and Clayborne have both shown promise but are still very raw and I’ve said before that Gerald McCoy is one more slip-up from getting tossed into the bust category.

Coples could really help that line.

You can never have enough talented defensive linemen, just ask the New York Giants, and having guys who can play multiple positions on that line offers a lot of options.

Say for instance the Bucs want to try and turn Da’Quan Bowers into pass-rush specialist to avoid every-down wear and tear on his knee. Drafting Coples would let the Bucs play the talented UNC DE on the edge to take advantage of his ability to play the run, and then slide him inside on passing downs so that Bowers could come in fresh and rush the edge.

That makes the defense better, that makes it more flexible. I think that’s a good route to go.

Coples is not without questions, there are some concerns about what was seen as a lackadaisical effort at points during his senior year. That has caused some scouts to question his desire, but his performance so far in Senior Bowl practice has countered that perception some as well.

There’s obviously plenty of time for due diligence, but if he’s got the fire to be successful he would make a great Buccaneer.

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