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Draft notebook: Tar Heels' final impression will last, and hurt too

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

Donte Paige-Moss and the Tar Heels' defense couldn't keep up with Missouri in the Independence Bowl. (AP)  
Donte Paige-Moss and the Tar Heels' defense couldn't keep up with Missouri in the Independence Bowl. (AP)  

In the weeks leading to the draft, NFL general managers are often asked to give team owners a video snapshot of the players they are targeting with early-round selections. Some owners, of course, have more say than others in the evaluation process but many like to see for themselves the young men who could soon be their employees.

Some owners specifically ask to see players' final games -- especially rivalries or bowl games. The thought process is easy to follow: A player worthy of a first- or second-day pick should stand out in their final big game as a collegian.

General managers considering using a top-100 selection on a University of North Carolina defender may have to think twice about showing his team's owner the Independence Bowl. The effort put forth by several prominent prospects was shameful.

Defensive end Quinton Coples entered the 2011 season ranked by many pro scouts as the elite senior prospect in the country, regardless of position. The 6-6, 285-pound Coples had earned All-ACC honors at defensive tackle in 2010 registering 59 tackles, including 15.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. He was moved outside for his senior season in the hopes that he'd be even more troublesome for opponents but instead saw his numbers drop in every category.

NFLDraftScout.com has learned that teammates and members of the UNC coaching staff approached Coples midseason about moving back inside to help the Tar Heels get more explosive pass rushers on the edge. Coples declined. His reason, according to a source, was that moving back inside could call into question his versatility and thereby compromise his draft stock.

Though Coples registered two tackles for loss against Missouri, his undisciplined rushes up-field opened up gaping holes that the Tigers exploited for 337 rushing yards -- nearly 10 times that of which UNC (36 yards) was able to accomplish on the ground Monday.

Perhaps most alarming, it wasn't just the seniors who played poorly for North Carolina. Junior inside linebacker Kevin Reddick, a junior thought to be considering making the jump to the NFL early, was virtually invisible. Playing against a Missouri offense that ran simple zone-reads up the middle the majority of the game, Reddick registered just four total tackles, only two of which were solos.

The Tar Heels' most consistent defender this season, senior outside linebacker Zach Brown, also deserves some of the blame. While his stat line looks impressive (14 tackles, two tackles for loss, an interception), only two of his tackles against the run came within four yards of the line of scrimmage. Considering the Tigers had 46 rushing attempts and that the primary knocks on Brown are an inability to get off blocks and play physically, Monday's effort won't help his cause, either.

When incoming head coach Larry Fedora was asked during his introductory press conference December 12 to describe the style of play he expected at North Carolina he said, "As a football team, we will always be attacking. Carolina-style football will be known as playing hard, playing fast, and playing physical."

It shouldn't just be NFL general managers who toss this game-tape into the trash can rather than re-watch it. The new Tar Heel head coach should, as well.

NFL needs juniors to save weak OT class

University of Southern Cal offensive tackle Matt Kalil opted to forgo his senior season and take the leap to the NFL.

Pro teams needing help at offensive tackle can only hope other juniors will follow his lead as some scouts think this is the worst crop of senior exterior offensive linemen the league has seen in the past 20 years.

"It's an ugly group, there is no doubt about it," one high-ranking scout said on the condition of anonymity.

"I've been doing this for a long time and I don't recall a draft where there wasn't a single [senior] offensive tackle I'd grade as a first round talent. They just aren't out there this year."

Another scout compared the 2012 class to 2006, when only one offensive tackle -- D'Brickashaw Ferguson -- made the first round. Ferguson, however, was a senior and was an elite talent. He was selected fourth overall by the New York Jets and has been to two Pro Bowls since.

Iowa's Riley Reiff (6-6, 300) and Stanford's Jonathan Martin (6-6, 305), each finishing up their junior seasons, are known to be considering making the jump. Wisconsin's Ricky Wagner (6-6, 320) is another underclassman with the size, talent and experience to potentially earn a top 32 selection.

NFLDraftScout.com currently ranks Ohio State's Mike Adams and Florida State's Zebrie Sanders as the top senior prospects. Both have been given second-round grades.

Fortunately, while the senior offensive tackle class is lacking, the interior group is considered one of the real strengths of the 2012 class.

Stanford junior David DeCastro, whom NFLDraftScout.com has learned is planning on leaving school early for the pros, headlines the group. There are also several collegiate offensive tackles who project best inside at guard, including Georgia's Cordy Glenn, Iowa State's Kelechi Osemele, Washington's Senio Kelemete, Midwestern State's Amini Silatolu and Miami junior Brandon Washington. True guards Lucas Nix (Pittsburgh) Kevin Zeitler (Wisconsin) are others who are already generating top 75 buzz amongst pro scouts.

Coby Fleener most underrated skill position player?

Among my favorite football cliches is that the NFL is a "copycat" league. What works for one team is sure to be copied and attempted by several more.

With the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers -- three of the league's elite passing attacks -- increasingly shifting their focus towards playmaking tight ends Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and Jermichael Finley, you can expect other clubs looking for a spark in the passing game to put extra emphasis on tight ends capable of stretching the field.

Stanford senior Coby Fleener could wind up the beneficiary.

NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated senior tight end since October, the 6-6, 245 pound Fleener is quietly earning first-round buzz and may just be the country's most underrated skill position player.

Like Gronkowski, Graham and Finley, Fleener isn't a traditional in-line blocker capable of knocking defenders onto their heels in the running game. He is, however, a former wide receiver offers rare straight-line speed, agility and body control in a huge (and still growing) frame.

Fleener "only" caught 32 passes for The Cardinal but led the team in both touchdown catches (10) and yards per reception (20.2). Despite only starting four games this season at Stanford, Fleener was recognized by Pac-12 coaches as an all-conference pick and earned third team All-American honors by the Associated Press.

Extra Points: Matt Barkley's decision to play at USC -- and not in the NFL -- next season caught many off guard, but those close to the Trojans while certainly pleased, weren't that surprised that the quarterback elected to come back for his senior season. One scout traveling through USC recently noted that Barkley "almost seemed to be looking for an excuse to return." Considering that he'll enter next season as an obvious Heisman candidate on a team with legitimate BCS title hopes and as impressive a returning cast of receivers and backs as there is in the country, he had plenty of "excuses" staring him in the face... One Heisman candidate who may be making the jump to the NFL early, however, is Wisconsin running back Montee Ball. Ball has already insinuated that if he received a first- or second-round grade from the NFL Advisory Committee that he might leave the Badgers. A quick poll of scouts had each assigning a second grade to the 5-9, 212 pound back. ... Fans of the Boise State football annually contend that their beloved Broncos are being underrated by the national press. ... Scouts for the Senior Bowl agrees, as four Broncos have been invited to the preeminent senior all-star game this year. Those invited include quarterback Kellen Moore, running back Doug Martin, defensive lineman Billy Winn and safety George Iloka. This total ties with the second highest number of players representing any school last year (Miami, Mississippi State). Nebraska led the nation with six players participating in the all-star game festivities.


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