If last year’s NFL Draft was a measure of validation for Butch Davis in illustrating his eye for talent and ability to develop it, this one will point to the various issues that ultimately resulted in Davis’ ouster.
Two UNC players were taken in the 2012 NFL Draft. DE Quinton Coples went 16th to the New York Jets and Zach Brown was taken 52nd overall by the Tennessee Titans. The common theme found with both picks were concerns about effort and intensity. In fact Coples’ play in 2011 was so mediocre the ESPN highlight package used when he was picked included substantial footage from 2010. In Brown’s case he was knocked for not being physical and being simply a good athlete who didn’t understand football.
In addition to the questions surrounding Coples and Brown, WR Dwight Jones who was seen as the second coming of Hakeem Nicks(and was in the UNC record book) went undrafted. The early word was Jones had serious character issues which clearly scared every team in the NFL away from drafting him. On one level this is odd simply because for most of his career and especially the 2011 season, Jones played well and did so without doing much to draw negative attention to himself. As UNC headed towards its bowl game that all changed.
Just prior to UNC’s Independence Bowl matchup with Missouri, it was revealed Jones was having a birthday party around New Year’s Eve and his likeness was used on the advertisement for it. This resulted in a secondary NCAA violation for which Jones was declared ineligible but reinstated for the bowl game. One condition of the reinstatement was the party would be canceled which it was. However after the bowl the party occurred anyway and that led UNC to bar Jones from Pro Day on campus. While that hurt him, his performance in the Senior Game was also a red flag and one can only speculate what the various interviews with teams revealed. Still, you do have to wonder what Jones did or say that made him a bigger character liability that Marvin Austin was a year ago. Granted, Austin was considered a higher caliber player but none of the 32 teams were willing to spend even a late draft pick on Jones?
A year ago it was about the talent and development of players under Butch Davis. This year the question is about the character of the players Davis brought in or their effort on the football field. On one hand, the manner in which Davis was fired and Everett Withers promoted set the stage for a season where Tar Heel players might not fully engage for whatever reason. That was evident on any number of occasions with the most infamous examples being the fifth straight loss to NC State and the bowl game itself. Clearly this hurt Coples and seeming damaged Brown’s outlook as well. While the coaching change was a factor, I would argue that even with Davis running the program, players were prone to inconsistency in the effort department. Jones’ issues were not effort since his play was trending in the positive direction all season long. The character issues(whatever they might be) have apparently overshadowed all of that which is a bit of surprise.
Now that the draft is over, teams will begin picking through the players who are left and sign them as undrafted free agents. Three Heels have already landed such opportunities with CB Charles Brown going to Baltimore, DT Tydreke Powell picked up by Minnesota and S Matt Merletti hooking up with Indianapolis. Jones will join former teammate T.J. Yates in Houston and Cam Holland has signed with Kansas City. Still no team for Donte Paige-Moss or Ryan Houston.