FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Quinton Coples, whose stated goal at the start of his senior year was to become the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, fell all the way to the New York Jets at No. 16 -- a drop that cost him millions.
"I think they got a great value," a smiling Coples said Friday of his new team.
The Jets think so, too, but their first-round pick, who received a mixed reaction from fans Thursday night at Radio City, comes with questions about his maturity and passion for football.
On his first full day as a member of the Jets, the former North Carolina defensive end said all the right things, claiming he always plays with a chip on his shoulder because "that's how I live my life." But there were reasons why he slipped in the draft, with some NFL scouts saying he played last season on cruise control.
This was a player who, at the start of the 2011 college season, was mentioned with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck as the top two pro prospects. Coples hurt his stock with a lackluster season. In retrospect, he probably should've left for the NFL after his junior year.
"I wasn't ready to become a professional," he said at a news conference at the Jets' facility. "I think I played at a high level my junior year, but I wasn't ready to make the transition to become professional, on and off the field. That's why I stayed."
Some believe Coples' performance suffered because of the tumult surrounding the North Carolina program -- an NCAA scandal in 2010 that resulted in many suspensions and a head-coaching change in 2011. One AFC personnel executive said Friday the school's program was "toxic."
Coples, too, was investigated -- and ultimately cleared -- last May after suspicion that he received improper benefits while attending a post-draft party thrown by former teammates in Washington D.C.
The turmoil caused Coples to "shut it down" last season, according to a scout from an opposing team. Coples offered a different view, claiming he took a leadership role.
"I had to stay strong for the team," he said. "I had to carry the young guys."
Coples was inconsistent, as his production declined -- 10 sacks as a junior tackle, but only 7½ as a senior end. In one game, against Rutgers, he didn't record a single tackle. He helped himself at the Senior Bowl, but some wondered if he was motivated by a "money drive," as NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock called it.
"I just stayed in the backfield, getting to the quarterback," said Coples, describing his week in Mobile.
The Jets were intrigued by his size and speed, and they dispatched coach Rex Ryan to the North Carolina pro day last month to get an up-close look at the 6-foot-6, 284-pound lineman.
When Coples completed the defensive-line drills for scouts, he got a chance to meet Ryan, who wanted to see some more. To test Coples' endurance, Ryan made him perform linebacker-oriented drills.
Ryan was impressed. So was Coples.
"Unbelievable, man," he said of his new coach. "He gives you this feeling, when you first see him, you kind of lose your breath."
Coples didn't lose his.
"I couldn't get him tired," Ryan said Thursday night.
That workout, Coples believes, convinced the Jets he was their guy. But they still had questions. Ryan contacted a former coaching colleague, John Blake, Coples' position coach in 2008 and 2009. Blake, who resigned from North Carolina amid the 2010 scandal, gave a positive recommendation.
In an 11th-hour, fact-finding move, the Jets brought Coples to their facility last week for a pre-draft visit. They also consulted with defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who played with Coples for a season at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va.
Wilkerson told Jets officials that Coples was a "great teammate" and a better player than he was. Now Coples and Wilkerson have a chance to grow together on a young defensive line that includes veterans Sione Pouha and Mike DeVito.
Asked if opposing offenses should be worried about him and Wilkerson, Coples smiled.
"They should be worried about me and Mo and big Bo in the middle, and everybody else behind us," he said, referring to Pouha. "We're going to be the No. 1 defense out there."
As a kid in Kinston, N.C., a small city not far from Carolina's coast, Coples' nickname was "Q the Beast," according to his mother, Gail. Early on, he was known for his basketball ability. That changed.
"Basketball was like a passion," she said. "Football was more like his (heart) throb."