Heading into the 2011 season many regarded North Carolina junior defensive Donte Paige-Moss as every bit the first round candidate as his more celebrated teammate Quinton Coples.
Estimated to be 6-4, 260 pounds, Paige-Moss recorded 49 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks as a sophomore, including a dazzling all-around performance (six tackles, 2.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, blocked kick) in North Carolina's Music City Bowl win over Tennessee that seemed to establish him as a young star on the rise.
Unfortunately, like a lot of the UNC Tar Heels, it seemed as though Paige-Moss entered the 2011 season caught up in his own hype. The explosiveness and relentlessness that had been evident in his game earlier in his career wasn't as apparent as the 2011 season began. Though Paige-Moss saw action in all 13 games in 2011, he was passed up on the depth chart by sophomore Keenan Martin and didn't start a game.
The frustration of seeing his playing time and statistics cut (29 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks in 2011) had pushed Paige-Moss to explore leaving UNC for a shot at the NFL. Paige-Moss was active early against Missouri in the Independence Bowl, recording three tackles and again demonstrating the combination of athleticism and size that had led talent evaluators from 4-3 and 3-4 teams, alike, to value him. Unfortunately, Paige-Moss suffered a torn ACL in his right knee against the Tigers, putting at least the beginning of next season in doubt.
Rather than consider redshirting next season and recovering from the injury, Paige-Moss informed UNC officials Monday that he is leaving early for the NFL.
Though it had been known that Paige-Moss was considering making the jump, once news of his injury spread I, for one, presumed he'd return. The Tar Heels may have been surprised, as well, as they officially announced the junior's decision via their Twitter feed rather than offer up the press conference and/or statement traditionally associated with news of this magnitude.
Scouts can't help but acknowledge Paige-Moss' athletic gifts. However, considering his play regressed this season, his injury and the fact that Paige-Moss has had run-ins with authorities in the past, the junior pass rusher is going to have a hard time convincing teams to spend anything more than a late round pick on his services this April.
Paige-Moss has been listed as high as 3rd on NFLDraftScout.com's ratings for defensive ends in the 2013 class.