The 2010 college football season began with nearly unprecedented promise for the North Carolina Tar Heels.
They entered the season ranked No. 18 by the Associated Press and were the trendy pick to contend for the ACC crown and even the national championship.
Butch Davis assembled a virtual all-star team on the defensive side of the ball, with seniors Marvin Austin (defensive tackle), Bruce Carter (outside linebacker), Quan Sturdivant (inside linebacker), Kendric Burney (cornerback) and Deunta Williams (free safety) ranked among the elite NFL prospects at their respective positions.
Senior wide receiver Greg Little also looked more than capable of being the Tar Heels' big-play threat of the offensive side of the ball. He had flashed toughness and playmaking ability similar to former teammates Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate. He was given the second-highest grade of any senior receiver by National Football Scouting entering the 2010 season.
|Kendric Burney (top) may have less-than-ideal size and Bruce Carter has to overcome injuries. (US Presswire)|
But something happened on the way to the Carolina coronation.
An NCAA investigation turned up evidence that several North Carolina players accepted improper benefits from agents. Further investigation resulted in charges of academic misconduct involving a tutor. Austin was kicked off the team. Little and Quinn were declared "permanently ineligible." In all, 13 UNC players were suspended for at least one game. Carter (torn ACL) and Williams (broken leg) suffered ugly season-ending injuries.
The Tar Heels' class of 2011 was on the precipice of what appeared to be a season of destiny. Instead, it became a season of dread.
But what impact will the investigation, suspensions and injury have on their NFL draft stock? Representatives from three NFL teams were asked to weigh in on the subject. The sources requested anonymity, but come from a variety of backgrounds, ranging from a regional scout to a front office executive.
Each was asked to describe what he liked about North Carolina's top prospects and what concerns clubs might have about drafting them.
(Players are listed by position with current/preseason rankings)
DT Marvin Austin
6-2/312/4.96, No. 8 DT, 64th overall (No. 1 DT, fourth overall preseason)
What Scouts Like: "(Austin's) best fit would be as a three-technique defensive tackle in the four-man front. He has great initial quickness and a closing burst on the quarterback. He is a legitimate athlete that opponents have to prepare for due to his interior rushing prowess."
Concerns: "It was a wise move for him to play at the East-West Shrine Game. By playing in that game, it refreshed scouts' memories of the athleticism we'd seen on tape. Now, don't get me wrong, he wasn't in great football shape, but no one expected him to be. But he played well and in my opinion, probably helped himself in interviews. He's a likeable kid who knows he's made some mistakes. There are enough things in his background that some teams are going to wonder if they can trust him, though and that will impact where he ends up going in the draft."
CB Kendric Burney
5-9/181/4.47, No. 19 CB, 159th overall (No. 8 CB, 51st overall)
What Scouts Like: "A very good football player. He's short, obviously, but he's a good athlete with quick feet. He plays with his eyes. He understands the game and learns on the fly. I know he impressed some of the coaches at the Senior Bowl. Probably is too short to play outside, but I think he's one of the better nickel corners in this draft."
Concerns: "Height, of course, but in terms of off-field stuff, he's cleaner than some of the other guys. He was suspended for a few games, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of concern about him off the field from their staff."
OLB Bruce Carter
6-3/235/4.57, No. 6 OLB, 68th overall (No. 1 OLB, sixth overall)
What Scouts Like: "Pure athleticism. Prior to the injury, at least, he had great speed and overall athletic ability. It may take some time, but you're always hopeful that he'll get that back. Carter is not the most instinctive or most physical player, but if you cover him up and protect him a little bit, he's got the stuff you can't coach."
Concerns: "There isn't the off-field stuff with Carter that there is on some of the other guys. The knee injury, of course, is a big concern. He was nicked up early on with a shoulder and now has the knee. How the knee is taking the rehab is going to determine a lot about where he'll go."
|Greg Little missed North Carolina's bowl game and will need a strong combine to boost his stock. (Getty Images)|
6-2/220/4.56, No. 13 WR, 117th overall (No. 1 WR, 31st overall)
What Scouts Like: "(Little) is a strong, possession receiver with good-after-the-catch ability. You can see that he was a former running back with the way he moves once he has the ball secured. He isn't afraid to go over the middle. Not a special player, but some legitimate upside."
Concerns: "Unlike the defensive tackle (Austin), Little wasn't at a bowl game so most NFL evaluators haven't seen this kid since '09. He's a guy who needs a strong Combine to get back on the radar. He needs to be mature and composed in his interviews. He's got a lot riding on his performance this week."
DE Robert Quinn
6-5/268/4.64, No. 2 DE, sixth overall (Unranked overall but was top-rated DE)
What Scouts Like: "Quinn's pass rush skills are his greatest asset. I like him better as a right defensive end in the 4-3 but believe he has the athleticism and bend to be a rush linebacker in the 3-4, so you have to like the versatility. He has good first step quickness. The ability to bend. Has good long speed. Has good length. Has a lot of upside to him. He's got some growth potential. There is a lot to like about him."
Concerns: "He's supposed to be a very good kid. Usually when a player is suspended for the entire year, people in the program will knock the player pretty good. The guys at UNC say he's not malicious or a bad guy at all, but one who just got caught up in something."
ILB Quan Sturdivant
6-2/230/4.63, No. 3 ILB, 89th overall (No. 2 ILB, 41st overall)
What Scouts Like: "Tough kid. Not a lot of upside. He doesn't have a lot of the special traits of some of their [North Carolina's] other players, but he might be the most reliable. Instinctive. Physical. Good football player."
Concerns: "He wasn't suspended for the agent or academic stuff, but there are some red flags, including an arrest before this season." Editor's note: Sturdivant was arrested for one count of possession of marijuana in July. The charges were ultimately dismissed after Sturdivant entered a deferred prosecution agreement)
FS Deunta Williams
6-1/215/4.53, No. 7 FS, 139th overall (No. 1 FS, 43rd overall)
What Scouts Like: "He's athletic and has some coverage skills. Good lateral agility and straight-line speed. Good awareness and ball skills."
Concerns: "The injury will definitely affect him. That's why the Combine is really so important. It isn't the workouts. It is the medical for a player like Williams. The medical guys will give us an idea as to when we can expect Williams would be back on the field. Is he going to be ready for training camp? Or is he a guy you're going to draft and know you're putting him on the shelf for a year?"
Rob Rang is Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RobRang.