November 24, 2014

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NFL Draft: UNC’s Robert Quinn mighty talented but raw

The headaches came in the morning and at night, and the pain relievers did little to help.

Then came the blackouts. The third one, while he was walking into the bathroom at home, sent the Quinns scurrying to the hospital.

Just a couple of hours later, Robert Quinn, a senior at Fort Dorchester High School in South Carolina, was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

“I won’t say it was scary, it was more heartbreaking when they told me I wouldn’t be able to play sports no more,” Quinn, a defensive end from the University of North Carolina, said at the scouting combine. “At one point they told me I should have been brain dead.

“It was kind of that Boobie Miles moment when I looked at my mom when they told me I wouldn’t play sports again, and I became that big, old baby and busted out in tears.”

Miles, a subject of “Friday Night Lights,” was a star running back in high school whose career was cut short by a knee injury.

Quinn was more fortunate. The tumor was benign, the symptoms disappeared after surgery, his six-month checkups have been clean and he’s expected to be a top-10 pick Thursday in the NFL Draft. He’s in the mix at No. 6 for the Browns, who are desperate for a pass-rushing defensive end.

“It didn’t slow me down,” he said. “And three, four years later, I’m still going.”

Quinn’s path to the NFL wasn’t clear. There was one more major bump in the road, as he was declared ineligible by the NCAA and missed the entire 2010 season after accepting improper benefits.

“I made a selfish mistake and I paid – me and my team and my family and coaches paid — a price for it,” he said.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. insists Quinn would’ve been a top-three pick if he had played his junior season. Instead, NFL scouts are left looking at 2009 tape of a raw 19-year-old to determine his worth.

“I don’t think it’s a risk, it’s a thing you would rather not have to deal with,” Cleveland general manager Tom Heckert said. “You’d like to see them play this year and unfortunately you can’t.

“You just have one less year to look at for him. You just have to use your judgment. Actually, it’s more of a detriment to the player than it is the scouting organization. If he had three great games and three bad games, he can’t change that from his one year.”

North Carolina defensive coordinator Everett Withers said he spoke with Quinn only a few times after the suspension, including a week before the combine in February.

“The conversation was him apologizing for how last year went and he felt so bad, let down us and the team,” Withers said by phone. “He’s having to go through some growing up to play professional football and he wished he had last year back.

“I believe out of all the kids affected (by the Tar Heels suspensions), it affected Robert more than any of them. Deep down, he is truly a good kid, a deep individual. It’s hard for me to imagine Robert Quinn having a selfish bone in his body.”

Quinn is coveted by NFL teams because he has good size (6-foot-4, 265 pounds) and speed and gets the edge on the left tackle. He had 52 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in 2009 and is the prototypical end in a 4-3 scheme.

“The best thing he does is come off the edge,” Butch Davis, Carolina coach and ex-Browns coach, said on NFL Network. “He has great acceleration, great burst, great first-step explosion. He’s relentless in chasing the passer.

“He’s an awful lot like (former New York Giant) Michael Strahan.”

Speed isn’t his only resource.

“Robert has the ability strengthwise to bull-rush a guy and take him back to the quarterback,” Withers said. “He can dip and rip and get underneath a guy. He has great flexibility.

“The strength and speed aspect scares a lot of tackles.”

A recent criticism of Quinn, as every top prospect gets picked apart by scouts and analysts, is that his sacks came against weak competition. He had three versus Duke and Virginia, two against East Carolina and one against The Citadel, Georgia Southern and Boston College. He was blanked by Connecticut, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Miami, North Carolina State and Pittsburgh.

“Look, I would be truly disappointed if he didn’t get sacks against those people,” Withers said. “The people that allowed him to be one-on-one with the tackle in pass-rushing situations, that’s their fault. People that committed tight ends and backs, where he couldn’t get the sacks, they did the right thing.

“The room to improve in that area is tremendous. He missed more sacks here than he got. That means there’s some fundamental and technique work that needs to be handled.”

NFN Network analyst Mike Mayock thinks it’s necessary to remind people Quinn was 19 years old the last time he played a game.

“He hasn’t grown into the strength of his body,” Mayock said. “He looks great, but he’s not a man physically. Two years from now, he’s going to be a different kind of person, have a different kind of strength.

“I happen to think he’ll be a dominant player in the league. He makes a ton of sense for the Browns.”

Withers has no doubt Quinn is ready for the NFL athletically, but has some concern about how the quiet kid from rural South Carolina will adjust off the field.

“Robert isn’t a worldly guy,” Withers said. “I’m sure he’s grown up a little bit, matured a little bit, seen things in the last year that may have made that maturation process accelerate.

“I think it’s going to be how the front office handles Robert. He needs some guidance.”

Don’t misunderstand. Withers thinks any NFL team would be lucky to have Quinn.

“The ceiling on him as a football player is very high, but the ceiling on him as a person is unbelievable,” Withers said. “In the NFL, where pass rushing is a premium, I don’t know how you go wrong with that. He’ll learn and listen and he’s willing to be taught.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter and fan him on Facebook.