NC’s Robert Quinn heads defensive line class

Looking over the senior defensive line class, there is certainly a talented group of prospects toward the top end who have the ability to come off the board some time in the first couple of rounds. But as of now, there doesn’t seem to be a potential dominant blue-chip-type guy who has the ability to be a real game changer up front. Nevertheless, when you start to look at some of the potential junior early entries who could be thrown into the mix, one name seems to rise above the rest: North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn, who has the makings to develop into one of the best defensive end prospects since Mario Williams. Today, the National Football Post takes a look at Quinn’s game and breaks down some of the other top junior defensive linemen who could have big years in 2010.

The cream of the crop

Robert Quinn, North Carolina (6-5, 268)
Possesses a tall, long-armed frame with good overall muscle tone and girth through his lower half. Coils up well into his stance and does a great job maximizing his first step and exploding off the football up the field. Get his hands up very quickly off the snap and knows how to use his length to initially slip blocks on contact. However, he looks much more natural at this stage using his hands to shed blocks in the pass game than vs. the run.

In the pass game, he does a great job working a jab step inside and instantly exploding toward the outside edge, maintaining his balance and accelerating toward the quarterback as well as any pass rusher in college football. Showcases impressive natural body control when asked to flatten out around the corner and looks natural dropping his shoulder and working a powerful and compact swat to keep himself clean. Has the first step to consistently threaten the outside and turn the corner but is also very efficient and savvy when asked to change directions and work the inside stunt. However, he needs to do a better job getting off the snap count on time, as he too often is the last defensive lineman moving off the ball – that should improve with more experience. Even so, the guy plays with a motor that runs non-stop, and because of his range and length, he rarely stays blocked for long.

Against the run game, he needs to do a better job playing with a lower pad level initially off the snap since he too often gets high out of his stance and can be jolted backward on contact. However, because he’s so long and sudden, he consistently is able to slip the block and close on the football after the initial jolt. He also needs to continue to work on his hand placement vs. the run game, especially when asked to set the edge. Although he does, for the most part, do a pretty good job remaining disciplined and staying at home with backside contain, he struggles to consistently gain initial leverage on contact when asked to take on blocks. His hands end up on the outside shoulders of opposing linemen where he can be steered away from the ball. But Quinn does work hard to fight his way off blocks and has the kind of range to close from the backside and consistently make plays in pursuit.

Overall, there are some spots to his game that still need polish, especially vs. the run. But he has the kind of size, body control and acceleration to consistently free himself from blocks and make plays on the ball. If he continues to develop, there’s no reason to think he can’t be an elite blue-chip prospect come 2011.

Others worth noting:

Marcell Dareus, Alabama (6-3, 306)
The most disruptive defensive lineman on the Alabama defense last season, Dareus made a living beating inside and chasing down ball carriers sideline to sideline. Possesses a thick lower half and does a great job using his hands to keep himself clean with the range to consistently make plays away from his frame. Displays a good first step off the ball with the suddenness and power to provide a real jolt on contact before slipping the block and making his way up field. Needs to do a better job playing with a more consistent pad level vs. the run game, as he has a tendency to pop upright when trying to locate the ball. But he’s consistently one of the first defensive linemen moving off the snap and looks like an ideal three-technique guy at the next level.

Jared Crick, Nebraska (6-6, 285)
He’s a long, powerful lineman who plays with a great motor and displays impressive overall technique inside. Does a good job quickly locating the football and has the ability to consistently stack and shed in both the run and pass game. However, he was asked to routinely only beat one-on-one matchups inside in 2009 next to Ndamukong Suh, so it will be interesting to see how he does next season with the attention focused on him.

Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson (6-4, 278)
All the tools are there for this kid to be as good as he wants to be at the next level. I’m still waiting for him to put it all together, but he has the power to stack and shed vs. the run and the burst to reach and flatten out around the edge. I expect him to take that next step as one of the nation’s top sack artists.

James Carmon, Mississippi State (6-6, 346)
Maybe it’s a bit premature to put him on this list, but if you take one look at any of the guys’ JUCO performances from last season, he really is a man among boys. I expect Carmon to mature quickly into one of the SEC’s better interior defensive lineman, and although he might not be ready for the 2011 draft, he’s still definitely worth keeping an eye on this coming season.

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