The year 2012 was supposed to be the year of the quarterback. Instead, it could be the year of the pass-rusher.
Speed/edge rushers, do-everything defensive ends, penetrating 3-techniques--you name it, the 2012 NFL Draft will have plenty of it. And in a league that is absolutely quarterback driven right now, a draft this rich in pass-rushing personnel couldn't come at a better time. These prospects will all move up and down draft boards over the next two months leading up to April 26, but it's probably safe to say that most of those draft boards will have the same two pass-rushers penciled in near the top of the list: South Carolina's Melvin Ingram and North Carolina's Quinton Coples.
These two pass-rushers, while very different in style, build and skill set, are both elite prospects at the defensive end position. And with Miami currently slated to run a 4-3 hybrid scheme in 2012, Ingram and Coples are both intriguing options for a Dolphins defensive line likely to start Cameron Wake at defensive end and Jared Odrick and Randy Starks at defensive tackle next season
As for the question of which prospect Miami should select this April, it mainly comes down to stylistic preference and how much of an emphasis the Dolphins will place on leadership, character concerns and overall upside.Quinton Coples
What's odd about Quinton Coples is that, while he is indeed a formidable pass-rush prospect, the thing he does best as a defensive end is stuff the run. Coples (6'5 3/4", 285) flat-out controls the point of attack and flashes the ability to anchor against double teams, pretty much furthering the notion that he's a classic 4-3 end who can consistently hold the edge and disrupt the backfield.
Coples has a capable-yet-straightforward approach to pass-rushing and typically looks to defeat blockers with brute strength and effective hand placement at the line of scrimmage. Coples flashes a tremendous bull rush, but doesn't appear to have a wealth of pass-rush moves at his disposal. However, he did effectively work an inside move against linemen at the Senior Bowl, so it's possible he's still developing in this area. Still, he's a powerful throwback to defensive ends of the '70s and '80s, and will be a very difficult one-on-one assignment for many NFL offensive tackles.
Where Coples' stock loses some luster, however, is in the leadership and character department. It probably doesn't help that he hails from a Tarheels program that has been ripe with character-concern-riddled players as of late, and Coples indifferent play last season only furthered the thought that he struggles with motivation. Perhaps Coples was just trying to protect his health and draft status, but he did little to prove he's not in league, personality wise, with North Carolina players such as Robert Quinn, Marvin Austin, Donte Paige-Moss, Zach Brown, etc., and that could be a problem for the organization that chooses to move forward with Coples. Or perhaps the character concerns with Coples are overblown and he just needs the right coaching at the next level. Can Joe Philbin provide that kind of coaching? It's my belief that he could, but I don't know if that gamble is worth the No.8/9 pick when there's other considerable pass-rushing talent available.
I've been saying for a while that Melvin Ingram is the best pure pass-rusher in this draft class, and I expect that claim to be validated by his pre-draft workouts over the next couple of months. Ingram is a stout, slippery rusher who excels at getting under the pads of linemen and driving them into the pocket, and he's able to consistently disengage from blocks. The thing that jumps out most from Ingram's tape, however, is his versatility as a defender. His exceptional athleticism and tweener (6'1 7/8" 276) stature should bring out plenty of comparisons to Dwight Freeney, but Ingram's strength gets him occasional work as an interior defender in the Gamecocks' scheme, and he has the speed and instincts to pop into the outside linebacker role at the next level, as well. Ingram is a virtual Swiss Army Knife on the defensive line, and he looked comfortable in all of his roles in Columbia last season.
Despite the fact that Ingram was essentially a pass-rush specialist prior to 2011, he looked very good as a run defender last season. Ingram isn't a run-stuffing talent of Coples' caliber, but he wins at the point of attack and is relentless when pursuing from the backside. With Ingram, you expect to get sacks, but he did finish last season with 48 tackles--seven less than Coples' season total. Ultimately, Ingram's the kind of defender who has his nose in almost every play, and he could be a destructive force at the next level, both as a pass-rusher and run stopper. Ingram, along with Clemson's Andre Branch, might have the most upside of any pass-rusher in this draft class.
Unlike Coples, there are no documented character concerns with Ingram. He was the leader on a defense filled with young, impressionable talent (Devin Taylor, Jadeveon Clowney), and Ingram carried himself well at the Senior Bowl, indicating that he is a mature, humble prospect ready to join an NFL roster and contribute right off the bat. "Leadership" is a word that gets tossed around ad nauseum during draft season, but a player like Melvin Ingram would be an ideal addition to a Miami Dolphins defense that has plenty of talent but is short on bona-fide leadership (unless you think Karlos Dansby's Kanye-ish behavior is leader-type behavior).
If I was calling the shots for the Miami Dolphins on draft night, I'd waste no time handing in a card with Melvin Ingram's name on it. Quinton Coples is a fantastic 4-3 defensive prospect, but Ingram is the epitome of a hybrid end, capable of doing damage from multiple positions on defense. And even if he only plays end in the Dolphins' scheme next season, his elite pass-rush skills, leadership and tremendous upside make him worthy of the No.8/9 selection.