Kiper: North Carolina football preview

Doyel: Curry, Peppers leave UNC speechless

Curry, Peppers reportedly giving up hoops at UNC

Kiper: Top 15 senior prospects for 2002 NFL draft

North Carolina Clubhouse

Mel Kiper's story archive

Friday, August 3

Football focus is best for Peppers, Curry

With multi-sport athletes like Julius Peppers and Ronald Curry, you never know where their real focus is. They spend half the year thinking about one sport instead of another. So it's great to see them focusing on football, the sport where they have a brighter future.

Julius Peppers and  Jamie Barnette
North Carolina DE Julius Peppers (49) should be a dominating defensive presence in the NFL.

Although I don't like talking about the draft prospects of underclassmen, Peppers has already said he plans to make himself eligible for the 2002 NFL draft. In giving up basketball, it seems Peppers realizes his future is as a dominating defensive end in the NFL. If he is coming out next year as a fourth-year junior, he can't be playing basketball. Peppers' focus has to be on the NFL draft. He will not be eligible to play in postseason all-star games, but he has to prepare for combine and individual workouts.

Peppers is the most dominant defensive player North Carolina has had since Lawrence Taylor. If he had declared for the NFL draft after last season, he would have been a top-10 pick. He is a better player than Florida State's Jamal Reynolds, who was the No. 10 pick overall.

Next year's draft will have some solid defensive players, including Tennessee tackle John Henderson, Washington tackle Larry Triplett, South Carolina end Kalimba Edwards and Florida end Alex Brown, but nobody is better than Peppers. Although I have initially ranked Henderson as the No. 1 senior prospect going into the next draft, I would be hard-pressed to put anyone ahead of Peppers. From what I have seen of both players, Peppers and Henderson carry about the same grade. But Peppers would be the top defensive player available.

At 6-foot-5½ and about 280 pounds, Peppers was a dominating player last season, leading the nation with 15 sacks. He is big and explosive, with a quick first step and closing speed. His pass-rushing technique is improving. Once he uses his quickness, speed and functional strength to get separation from a tackle, he can close like a cat on the quarterback.

As a basketball player, Peppers proved he is a multi-talented athlete who could start in the ACC for one of the nation's best teams, one that always competes for a national championship. He made progress as a basketball player, but I like his decision to concentrate on his true calling. It is a big plus for both him and new North Carolina head coach John Bunting, who should feel fortunate to have Peppers back.

Peppers is the most dominant defensive player North Carolina has had since Lawrence Taylor.

In fact, all college football coaches should count their blessings and sing the praises of the NFL. They are guaranteed to have a player in their program for at least three years before they can make a decision to leave for the NFL.

Basketball coaches are lucky to have a player for one season, let alone four seasons, which is how many Peppers will give the North Carolina football program. Peppers didn't have to hang around. He could have easily left for the NFL last season.

For Curry, as a quarterback, it's even more critical for him to concentrate on football. He was considered one of the nation's great quarterbacks out of high school, but he has not yet developed into a great college player. Inconsistency has been a problem. Curry has to show significant improvement this season to be a player who factors in the NFL draft.

There will be a wide range of opinion about where Curry projects. But it's too early to predict because Curry has yet to play at a high level. He has outstanding potential, but potential needs to become consistent performance this season. Improvement is needed in all facets of playing quarterback, especially throwing precise passes and making better decisions. We know he has the athletic ability and the talent to run and scramble, but will he become the pure passer he needs to be to play in the NFL? His questions are similar to what Michael Vick's questions were.

Curry could be a high draft pick, but he has to play like one. I'm glad to see he understands how important this season is for his future in football.

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