Before I could finish asking some of Robert Quinn’s former teammates about his nicknames, they began shaking their heads.
“Whew,” North Carolina defensive back Kendric Burney said, “monster.”
Cornerback Duenta Williams smiled, “Freakish athlete.”
Later on Sunday at the NFL Combine, I found North Carolina defensive back Da’Norris Searcy at a table. I told him about the immediate awed reaction of UNC teammates to the mention of Quinn’s name. Searcy explained with a story about the 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end they called “Atlas” and “Big Freak.”
“There was a moment in the weight room when we were power cleaning,” Searcy said. “Rob power cleaned something like (400 or 500 pounds) like he was lifting a trash bag. I was like, ‘Oh man, there ain’t no way he can be this strong.’”
Searcy’s teammates might be a bit biased. But the praise for Quinn wasn’t limited to his buddies in Indianapolis.
The NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi said he thought Quinn was a top-five pick who could go No. 1 overall. Said fellow NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock on Sunday: “He’s as good a natural pass rusher as I have ever seen.”
Mayock also said he thought Quinn, a potential 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL, would “blow up” the combine during position drills today at Lucas Oil Stadium.
On that front, it appears Texas A&M’s Von Miller, not Quinn, dropped the most jaws today.
The 246-pound Miller ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds, continuing a rapid ascent that began at the Senior Bowl. In fact, Miller might be moving beyond the 49ers’ reach on draft boards.
As for Quinn, he ran the 40 in 4.7 seconds, which was slightly slower than expected given the unique physical exploits of the “Big Freak.”
NFL teams will do plenty of homework on Quinn, who has a benign brain tumor which was diagnosed in high school. Quinn said he hasn’t a headache since undergoing surgery more than four years ago. Still, he had an MRI at the combine (he joked that he’s so used to entering the tube that he’s asleep within a two seconds).
In addition, there are also character questions with Quinn. He was declared permanently ineligible prior to his junior year at North Carolina this past season after accepting improper benefits from an agent.
It’s foolish, perhaps, to make character assessments based on a 10-minute question-and-answer session, but I’m guessing NFL teams won’t find much to worry about with Quinn on a personal level.
The media session with Quinn was possibly the favorite one I attended at the combine. The soft-spoken and humble 20-year-old was accountable and appeared genuinely stricken when discussing his suspension.
When asked who was the best pass-rusher in the draft, he stumbled through his answer. He managed to come across as humble while declaring himself the best — “not to sound cocky and conceited,” he explained.
I asked his teammates about Quinn’s gentle-giant persona. On that question, they didn’t sound awed, but they were unanimous.
“That’s what I admired about him,” Searcy said. “He was humble. He didn’t put himself out there as being better than anybody.”
Williams said they had to drag Quinn out of his room when he first arrived at UNC, “He’s an extremely humble man,” he said. “And everything that he’s going to get, he deserves it.”