Defensive lineman Robert Quinn of North Carolina runs through a drill during the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 28, 2011 in Indianapolis. JOE ROBBINS - Getty Images
In 2007, when he was a high school senior, doctors gave Robert Quinn a second chance at football after he was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor.
Thursday night, after sitting out his junior season because he broke NCAA rules, North Carolina’s star defensive end was given a third chance to play the game he loves – by the St. Louis Rams.
Quinn, the 14th overall pick, became the 19th Tar Heel to become a first-round selection. As many as 11 more of his former teammates could be chosen in the three-day, seven round draft – including defensive tackle Marvin Austin and wide receiver Greg Little, who also were kicked off the UNC football team for accepting improper agent benefits (Quinn and Little were banned from playing college football again).
Florida State Christian Ponder was the first ACC player selected, going a surprising 12th overall to the Minnesota Vikings. With the 22nd pick, the Indianapolis Colts selected Boston College offensive lineman Anthony Castonzo, making him the third ACC athlete chosen.
N.C. State linebacker Nate Irving is also expected to be a second- or third-day selection.
"I'm excited to be a St. Louis Ram," Quinn said after he was drafted, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I'm hoping I can be a big part of getting back on the winning side."
The Rams, 7-9 last season,, said they weren’t worried about the medical condition that prematurely ended Quinn’s high school playing career. The tumor was discovered during his senior season at Fort Dorchester (S.C.) High. After surgery to drain swelling in his head, doctors at first thought he would never play football again, only to watch Quinn star for two seasons in Chapel Hill. The 6-feet-4, 265-pound Quinn, who turns 21 next month, has said he’s had healthy check-ups every six months since his surgery.
“Our doctors spent a lot of time doing research, talking to people in Chapel Hill,’’ Rams general manager Billy Devaney said in a news conference after the pick. “He’s never had any problem while he was at North Carolina. … He’s played with it, and our doctors -- as we called around the league -- the majority of teams were comfortable with it, also.”
The Rams also said they were comfortable Quinn’s explanation about the mistakes that had him working out in a small weight room at UNC's indoor track facility during football season last semester, rather than with his team.
Quinn, from Ladson, S.C., said last month that "just surrounding myself with people I don't usually surround myself with" is what led to taking two black diamond watches, matching earrings and travel accommodations to Miami, benefits valued at $5,642. The NCAA also determined that he lied to investigators, leading to his expulsion.
“He did make a mistake,’’ Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said at the news conference. “All of the research, everyone you talk to, it was out of character for him. We talked [to him] about that, and I felt very comfortable with the response. This is a kid that is from a great family and upbringing … he’s paid for it, and is ready to move on.”
Indeed, although Quinn became the eighth Tar Heel to be taken in the draft’s top-15, some analysts have said he may have contended for a top-3 spot, had he been able to play in 2010.
As a sophomore in 2009, he recorded 11 sacks - second-best in the ACC - but six came against Duke and Virginia, the two bottom teams in the Coastal Division. Nonetheless, he earned first-team All-ACC honors and finished second in the ACC Defensive Player of the Year vote.
Playing in 2010 would have allowed him to further showcase his quick first step, and build on his sack tally and reputation.
Now, he’ll do that in St. Louis, whose starting defensive ends, Chris Long and James Hall, combined for 19 sacks last season.
Spagnuolo said that getting Quinn ready for the NFL competition "is going to take a little while. We're fortunate that we do have some veteran defensive ends that can help him out. When he's ready to go, we'll toss him in there."
Devaney said the team felt fortunate that Quinn dropped to No. 14: “ It ended up being an easy decision."