As we approach the 2011 NFL Draft, a variety of interesting stories will be discussed. One such story is that of North Carolina defensive end/outside linebacker Robert Quinn. He was declared ineligible prior to the 2010 season and he subsequently missed the entire season due to accepting improper benefits (along with a host of other UNC players). Even with that missed time he is still projected as one of the best pass rushing outside linebackers in the draft. He is listed at Scouts Inc. as a defensive end, but it seems like there's an excellent chance he'll end up as a pass rushing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Draft Tek has him ranked as the number one 3-4 OLB ahead of everyone's flavor of the month Von Miller.
Some folks don't think the team needs to address the pass rushing OLB role with a first round pick. I definitely lean in that direction. However, whatever way you feel about the position, what I find just as interesting is the fact that he hasn't played since 2009. I'm sure he's working out and conducting drills, but he hasn't played competitive tackle football in over a year.
This reminds of when USC wide receiver Mike Williams faced a similar situation before the Detroit Lions drafted him number ten overall in the 2005 NFL Draft. Back in 2004 Maurice Clarett was in the middle of his battle to declare for the NFL draft before he was three years past his high school graduation (the NFL rule). Clarett initially couldn't but a judge ruled the NFL couldn't bar such declarants. Based on that ruling Williams declared for the draft and appeared set to be an impact player. The judge's ruling was eventually overturned, Mike Williams couldn't be drafted, and he was declared ineligible for the 2004 NCAA season. He then successfully entered the 2005 NFL Draft and was selected by the Lions.
We're now six seasons later and Mike Williams finally made an impact in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks. After catching 29 passes for 350 yards as a rookie, Williams caught 15 passes for 189 yards in 2006 and 2007 combined before not playing in the NFL in 2008 and 2009. 2010 saw him hook on with the Seahawks and come out of nowhere to catch 65 passes for 751 yards and two touchdowns. Can the 49ers afford to potentially wait that long for a guy like Quinn? It sounds like people don't view him in the same light as Mike Williams, but is it worth the risk? If you don't think the 49ers should go pass rushing OLB at number seven then you definitely don't see the risk. But if you think the pass rushing OLB is a big need, do you roll the dice on Quinn?
Here's what Steve Muench from Scouts Inc had to say about Quinn:
[H]e has the upper-body strength and plays with enough leverage to set the edge if moved to outside linebacker in a three-man front ... [H]e has the burst to beat offensive tackles off the snap and the flexibility/balance to bend back inside when the tackle fails to get his hands on [him]. There are concerns about Quinn's ability to counter when he doesn't win with his first move but he can work to improve in this area. The bottom line is that his explosiveness and closing speed can't be coached and he has all the tools to excel once he shakes off the rust.
The upcoming NFL Combine and Quinn's potential Pro Day would seem to be one way to see in what kind of shape he's kept himself. It's not the be-all, end-all answer but it can at least get us looking in the right direction. If he's out of shape it's a huge red flag, whereas if he's in shape and looking good in drills, it's more just a wash. That's arguably a win for him, but it doesn't answer the in-game question marks.