Note – This was written by former TOJ employee Steve Bateman
Rookie defensive end Quinton Coples has divided opinion amongst Jets fans ever since it was announced at Radio City last spring that he’d been selected as their first round draft choice. The former North Carolina man arrived in New Jersey with several question marks against his name and, if popular opinion is to be believed, many of those question marks will follow him into his sophomore year.
For various reasons, however (mainly that it’s difficult to untangle the melee of line play during a live broadcast), defensive linemen are often harshly judged by fans unless they’re producing JJ Watt-esque stat lines. So, with that in mind, let’s break down a tell-tale play from 2012 in an attempt to make a true evidence-based assessment of what kind of player the Jets have in Coples.
Going back to Week 14 when the Jets squared off with the Jacksonville Jaguars, let’s consider an effort that showcases several of Coples’s talents (and a couple of weaknesses) all in one go. Trailing by a touchdown with 0:27 left on the clock in the 4th quarter, the Jaguars are threatening to tie things up with a 1st & 10 on the Jets 28-yard-line. The Jags are out in 10 personnel (Picture 1) with Chad Henne operating from the shotgun, while the Jets are matched up in their dime defense. Coples (red) is lined up in the 5 technique at right end.
When the ball is snapped, Coples immediately delivers an effective strike directly into the chest of right tackle Cameron Bradfield and then disengages (Picture 2).
His strength and arm length provide Coples with almost two yards of space to work with, and as he disengages he simultaneously turns his hips to show Bradfield that he’s about to use his speed to beat him on the inside (Picture 3).
But as soon as Bradfield commits, Coples plants his left foot (Picture 4) and drives in directly the opposite direction.
Left completely flat-footed by Coples’s agility (Picture 5), the tackle then tries to get a left arm up into the chest area, but the rookie defender soon fights off Bradfield’s attempt by using both arms to slap at him.
As Henne draws back his arm to release the throw, Coples is now bearing down on him with menace (Picture 6). Yet although the rookie’s work has been literally foot perfect up until this time, at this point his inexperience leads him to commit a minor mistake.
By this stage a more experienced player would most likely have given up on the prospect of sacking the quarterback and would instead have instinctively raised his arms in the hope of tipping the pass. Coples, on the other hand, chooses to become airborne (Picture 7) and thereby not only misses out on the opportunity of a deflection but also runs the risk of being called for a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty.
In terms of penalties last year, Coples was somewhat of a liability, with flags being thrown against him on 1 out of every 103.2 snaps. (The only Jet worse than him in this category was Ellis Lankster, who drew one flag per 83.75 snaps). If this were Coples’s second or third year in the league, that statistic may be a cause for concern, but in a rookie year it can easily be written off as exuberance borne from inexperience.
To summarize then, Coples’s rare combination of arm-length, agility, speed, and strength all add up to make him a nightmare for any offensive lineman to deal with one-on-one. But as experience enables him to improve even further, it’s likely that he’ll begin seeing more and more double-teams. This is why, for my money, Coples will not be the finished article until he can add an effective spin move (a la Dwight Freeney) to his repertoire. But if (or more likely when) he does, the league had better look out, because the early indications are that Coples clearly displays all of the hallmarks that indicate the presence of a truly fearsome pass-rusher.