Confident Quinn likely worth risk despite red flags

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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INDIANAPOLIS -- You play to win the game, Herman Edwards tells us, and that's great. But what happens if you don't play the game? Well, now we find out because a guy who went AWOL last season -- University of North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn -- is queued up for this year's draft.

Quinn is one of the best players at his position. He has first-round talent, first-round size and first-round expectations. In fact, Quinn this weekend said he's the best defensive end at this year's NFL Scouting Combine, which he's not, but so what? He's one of the top defensive ends anywhere and a virtual certainty to be a first-round draft choice. In fact, he could be the first defensive end to go after someone takes Da'Quan Bowers.

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"I think he'll go in the top five," said the NFL Network's Mike Lombardi, "and I could see him being the first pick overall."

I can't. But I don't know where he goes. I mean, if you invest a lot of money in a high draft pick you want to make sure he can play, only there's no tape of Quinn from last season. It doesn't exist because he was suspended for the season after the NCAA found him guilty of accepting $5,600 in benefits from his agent and of academic improprieties.

So how sure can you be sure of someone who hasn't played a game in over a year? You can't, which is why Robert Quinn presents a dilemma for every team out there: Do you or don't you ... and when?

Remember, now, Arizona took Eric Swann with the sixth pick of the 1991 draft after Swann failed to play a down of college football, and all he did was last 10 years in the league, including two where he was named to the Pro Bowl.

"There's obviously that added dynamic to it, but there is film on him," Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli said of Quinn. "He has played, and everyone has seen him in uniform. Everyone is going to spend time with him.

"It's no different than a player who's missed a season because of injury. It's obviously different but very similar. You don't have any update knowledge of seeing the player play or how much he's matured as a player."

I don't have updated knowledge of seeing Quinn play, either, but I do have a feeling of how much he's matured -- and not as a player but as a person. The evidence was there this weekend when Quinn stood in front of reporters, and, unlike Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, patiently answered tough questions.

He spoke softly. He spoke quietly. But he spoke confidently. Plus, he appeared remarkably poised for someone whose future is on the line.

'I made a selfish mistake, and I paid,' Quinn says of his suspension last season. (US Presswire)  
'I made a selfish mistake, and I paid,' Quinn says of his suspension last season. (US Presswire)  
"I made a selfish mistake, and I paid," he said. "Me, my team, my family and my coaches paid a price for it. I truly apologized for it."

"So what advice do you have for others?" he was asked.

"If they really care and want to play college ball you've got to grow up and stay away from what I've been through," he said.

What he's been through is more than just a year-long suspension. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in high school, and though it later was discovered to be benign, Quinn said he learned a valuable lesson -- namely "to appreciate the little things in life," and never "to take anything for granted."

Great. Maybe that lesson comes into play here when Quinn starts to rebuild his football career.

"He's going to be a phenomenal player for whatever team drafts him," UNC teammate Kendrick Burney said.

We'll see. All I know is that the NFL Scouting Combine couldn't come soon enough for him. The last time anyone saw Robert Quinn he was an outstanding pass rusher coming off an outstanding season. Now, he has his chance to prove nothing has changed.

"With my confidence," said Quinn, "I think I'm the best [pass rusher], to be honest. Not to sound cocky or conceited, but that's just the way I approach the game. I want to be the best, and I think I am."

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