With the 2010 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before the 2011 scouting combine begins on Thursday, we'll be taking a closer look at the 40 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue our series with North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn. Suspended for the entire 2010 season in a scandal involving illegal benefits received from an agent that saw several of his teammates suspended as well, Quinn will be depending on this scouting combine more than any other player there. We have tape from just two seasons as a result. The suspension wasn't the first time Quinn found himself in a career-threatening situation, nor was it the most serious – in his senior year of high school, he underwent brain surgery to remove a benign tumor.
Why is Quinn still in everyone's top 10 despite all the drama? He explodes off the tape, and his raw athleticism – as inconsistent as it may be – transfers to real production as a pure pass rusher. In 25 games, Quinn put up 13 sacks, 86 tackles (57 solo), 25.5 tackles for loss (23 solo), four passes defensed, eight forced fumbles and 15 quarterback hurries. If Quinn returns to football with the form he showed at UNC, he's an undeniable first-rounder, but there are many questions for him to answer.
Pros: Gets off the snap with impressive speed (especially for his size at 6-foot-5, 268 pounds) and employs the full array of pass-rush moves – can use a rip move while getting outside a tackle, move quickly into his arc, get low on his turn, and close to the quarterback. Relentless once he gets started, especially with his explosiveness. Good upper-body strength allows him to avoid being ridden out of plays – pass or run – by stronger blockers. Closes inside the tackle pretty well, though he needs to develop better footwork and angle fakes. Can bull-rush the strongest blockers at times.
In short-yardage situations, Quinn has a good head for avoiding overpursuit, instead watching the quarterback and potentially either stopping a sneak or batting a ball down. He's not a one-trick pony. When Quinn loops inside at a wider angle, he overwhelms weaker guards and centers, easily splitting double-teams. In a short area, he can also blast by the guard's outside shoulder. Slides off blockers quickly to make run tackles in the backfield; it's very important to note that Quinn can do more than just pressure the quarterback.
Cons: When he's playing wide off the snap, it's easy to box him out because Quinn doesn't re-set in short spaces the way the best pass rushers do. He seems intent on staying on one track. Doesn't have a spin move per se, though again, the potential is there for Quinn to mess people up if he develops one.
Conclusion: Many of the technique gaps Quinn presented in 2009 most likely would have been solved in 2010, had he been able to play and receive coaching. Now, the questions surrounding his NFL potential are twofold: it's not only about how he looks more than a year past his last gameday snaps, but also whether he's developed any new moves that he can show off in Indianapolis and at his pro day.
We all have opinions about a system that makes millions of dollars off the efforts of its athletes and can end a collegiate career after a kid accepts $5,000 in gifts, but Robert Quinn can't worry about that. He's got to prove that he's not just the player people saw in 2008 and 2009, but has developed in a year of working out away from the day-to-day discipline players have in a team setting. If he can do that, Quinn could very well be a top-5 pick – and one of the top ends in the game over time.
More Shutdown 40
40 -- Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State | #39 - Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee
| #38 - Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor | #37 - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas | #36 -- Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami | #35 -- Danny Watkins, OL, Baylor | #34 - Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State | #33 -- Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State | #32 - Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida | #31 - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado | #30 - Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame | #29 - Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois | #28 - Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State | #27 - Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA | #26 - Brandon Harris, CB, Miami | #25 - Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin | #24 -- Jake Locker, QB, Washington| #23 -- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado| #22 - J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin | #21 - Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois| #20 - Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State | #19 - Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland | #18 - Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue | #17 - Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama | #16 - Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa | #15 - Tyron Smith, OT, USC | #14 - Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri | #13 - Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College | #12 - Cam Newton, QB, Auburn| #11 -- Cameron Jordan, DL, Cal| #10 - Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri | #9 - Julio Jones, WR, Alabama | #8 - Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska | #7 - Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama