There was some discussion before the 2011 NFL Draft that University of North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn could be a top-5 pick. Ends with the kind of unquestioned speed and elite pass-rushing ability Quinn possesses are an asset in what has quickly become a pass-first National Football League.
Sure, there were question marks. He had missed the entire 2010 college football season after being ruled ineligible by the NCAA for lying about receiving gifts. Did he have character concern? And because he was ineligible, he hadn’t played a down of competitive football in over a year. Would the skills still be there?
Quinn didn’t go top-5 on draft day. He slid out of the top 10 as well. So when Quinn was still available at pick No. 14, the St. Louis Rams felt they couldn’t pass on Quinn’s tremendous upside.
A year and one game into his NFL career it’s still too early to tell whether Quinn will live up to his potential, but the pass-rushing ability he showcased at UNC – in 2009 he registered 11 sacks in 13 games – still seems to be present. Quinn finished his rookie season with five sacks and three blocked punts, proving to be a force on defense and special teams.
This season Quinn picked up right where he left off. Quinn got to Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford for the Rams’ only sack of the game Sunday. He was also in on three tackles. Quinn said he feels more comfortable with each passing day.
“Each and every year you learn the game more,” Quinn said. “Naturally you just start moving faster and faster and it’s just second nature.”
The more Quinn is able to do what comes naturally without having to think, the more he’ll become a disruptive force that opposing offenses must gameplan against. Defensive end Chris Long said he doesn’t think that day is too far off.
“I’ve always thought that Robert is an elite talent in this league,” Long said. “He’s one of the most special talents I’ve been able to play with. I’ve played with some good players in just a couple years here. The sky is the limit for him. He’s worked really hard this offseason, and I really think he’s going to be our guy. I’m just excited to complement him on the other side. It’s a real blessing to have.”
With veteran stalwart James Hall gone, the time is now for the 22-year old Quinn. If the first game was any indication, Quinn might often find himself right at home in the opponent’s backfield this season.
“We’ve got a good group of core guys that’s in here from last year you kind of get used to being around,” Quinn said. “Your bond and chemistry just get tighter and tighter. You just feel more comfortable, which allows you to play a little faster.”
Faster is a trait Quinn knows well.