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April 10, 2012

Sammy: Draft Day Approaching for Heels

Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn and Hakeem Nicks were all highly rated prospects who received four- or five-star status as high school seniors.

Brandon Tate, E.J. Wilson and T.J. Yates were only two-star prospects, the lowest you can go other than not being rated at all.

But despite the disparity in their prospect ratings coming out of high school, all six of those former Tar Heels find themselves drawing a paycheck today from the same employer - the National Football League.

The correlation between prep rankings and NFL potential will be tested again April 26-28 for several former North Carolina players during the league's annual draft in New York.

Mock drafts compiled by ESPN's draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have defensive end Quinton Coples being selected in the very first round. McShay has Coples headed to the home-state Carolina Panthers with the No. 9 overall pick, while Kiper projects the 6-foot-6, 290-pounder going to the Seattle Seahawks a little later at No. 12.

Either selection puts Coples in elite company as the 20th overall UNC player to be taken in the first round, and the fourth to go in the last five years.

Of course, the rankings - we refer to the ones compiled by Rivals.com - indicated to us long ago that Coples would be in this position. As a high school senior in 2008 playing prep football at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, Coples was rated the nation's No. 6 strong-side defensive end prospect and awarded four stars by Rivals.

A similar prediction could have been made regarding outside linebacker Zach Brown.

Brown, who was a teammate of Coples' at Hargrave, was also a four-star prospect, according to Rivals, and rated the nation's 12th-best prep school player.

A recruiting note on Brown that many may not remember. But he actually was verbally committed to Maryland in late 2007 before switching to the Tar Heels in January 2008 during an official visit to Chapel Hill.

Come draft day, Kiper expects Brown to be taken in the second round. He projects the Philadelphia Eagles will select Brown with the No. 46 overall pick.

In contast to Coples and Brown are Dwight Jones, Donte Paige-Moss and Tydreke Powell.

Jones and Powell were four-star prospects coming out of high school, while Paige-Moss was awarded the prestigious five-star status. But despite the same lofty rankings enjoyed by Coples and Brown, Jones, Paige-Moss nor Powell are not likely to be taken in the first two rounds of the 2012 draft.

Jones also had a same prep ranking to the above-mentioned Nicks and Greg Little.

Nicks was a four-star stud in the recruiting Class of 2006 and Little held an identical ranking in 2007. Both wide receivers wound up being selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, Nicks going in the first round of the 2009 draft to the New York Giants and Little in the 2011 second round to the Cleveland Browns.

But a poor performance at the Senior Bowl and questions about his ability to separate from defenders have predictions as low as the fourth and fifth rounds for Jones.

Powell also seems headed for a late-round selection, despite lettering four straight years and starting the last two for the Tar Heels.

Paige-Moss seemed like a sure-fire NFL draft pick when he arrived in Chapel Hill from Northside High School in Jacksonville, N.C. In addition to being awarded five-star status by Rivals, he was rated the nation's No. 2 defensive end, No. 1 in the state of North Carolina and the No. 16 prospect overall in the entire nation.

The 6-4, 270-pounder played in eight games as a true freshman, then started 12 of 13 as a sophomore. But as a junior last season Paige-Moss experienced a decline in his production and playing time as sophomore Kareem Martin took over his starting position. He ended the year and his UNC career by tearing the ACL in his knee against Missouri in the Independence Bowl.

Despite the injury and a lackluster junior year, Paige-Moss made the decision to leave UNC a year early and make himself eligible for the NFL Draft. But because he's been unable to perform for NFL scouts while rehabbing his knee, it's a longshot at this point that he'll even be drafted. His best opportunity is expected to be as a free agent signee.

Other late-round NFL picks or free-agent possibilities for UNC include runnining back Ryan Houston, center Cam Holland, cornerback Charles Brown and safety Matt Merletti. Houston and Holland were three-star prospects coming out of high school, and Brown and Merletti were two-star players.

Those four are hoping to become success stories like Tate, Wilson, Yates or Da'Norris Searcy. All four were tabbed as two-star talents in high school and weren't even ranked at their respective positions.

But Tate, despite an injury plagued senior year, was selected in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. He's scheduled to begin his fourth NFL season next fall with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Wilson was stellar three-year starter for the Tar Heels at defensive end before being taken by the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. He's now a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he missed last season due to a knee injury.

Searcy was a fourth-round pick in last year's draft by the Buffalo Bills and appeared in all 16 games as a rookie. He made three starts, collected 34 total tackles and made an interception.

Yates made have provided the best example that high school rankings aren't always a clear indicator of success in college or the NFL. He left UNC after re-writing the school passing records and was selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft by the Houston Texans.

Originally regarded as a third-team quarterback for the Texans, Yates wound up in the starting lineup due to injuries. Yates not only helped the Texans clinch their first ever playoff berth, but he also directed them to their initial playoff victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.





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