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All-Time Football Top-25 Countdown: No. 16 Robert Quinn

Though his time in Chapel Hill was cut short, Quinn was a monster from Day 1.

East Carolina v North Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

This summer, Tar Heel Blog will profile the top 25 players in the history of the North Carolina football program. The rankings were determined by votes from readers and staff.

Robert Quinn headlines the ‘what if?’ section of our top 25. As in, what if that absurd collection of talent had been able to stay out of trouble and get on the field in 2010? That season is still (sadly) very high on my list of alternate realities I would like to live.

Career at UNC

A great story coming out of high school, the Fort Dorchester, South Carolina product was diagnosed with a brain tumor his senior year. Citing Butch Davis and staff’s commitment to honor his scholarship regardless of whether he ever played a down in Carolina Blue, Quinn chose the Heels over Alabama and Auburn on Signing Day in 2008.

Quinn only played two seasons at Carolina, and thus may be a little high on this list. However, his on-field impact justifies such a lofty ranking.

Quinn’s freshman season started slow (understandable, given his circumstances), but he was starting by October and ended up third in ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. In 2009, he took off, leading the ACC in TFL, finishing second in sacks, and fourth in forced fumbles. He took home first-team All-ACC honors, 2nd team All-America from CBS, and finished second in ACC defensive player of the year voting to Darrick Morgan of Georgia Tech—Tech won the Coastal at 11-3 (7-1), which never hurts a player’s candidacy.

Along with Quinton Coples, Marvin Austin, Tydreke Powell, and the rest of the crew, 2009 was a boatload of fun. The Heels finished 6th in total defense, allowing just 269.6 yards per game, and 17th in scoring at just under 18 per. Along with standouts such as Quan Sturdivant, Bruce Carter, Deunta Williams, Da’Norris Searcy, Charles Brown, and Kendric Burney, the 2009 defense was all set to return and wreak havoc in 2010.

Unfortunately, that never came to pass, as Quinn was caught in the middle of the Austin Twitter scandal of 2010. Bruce Feldman of ESPN wrote after the season the Heels could’ve stopped Cam Newton and won the BCS championship. I’ll finish this post in an hour after I go sit in the bathtub and cry. After UNC foolishly (I mean, the NCAA is still there seven years later) allowed investigators to delve into players’ personal phones and emails, Quinn was ruled ineligible for accepting extra benefits.

It’s a shame. He was a monster.

Honors and Awards

  • 2008: Third in ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year voting
  • 2009: First-team All-ACC, Second-team All-America (CBS)
  • 2009: 2nd in voting for ACC Defensive Player of the Year

Top Games at UNC

At the top of his game, Quinn was unstoppable. Referenced a couple of times in the clip above, he singlehandedly kept Carolina in the 16-3 loss forever known as the “what the hell was John Shoop doing” game to Virginia with three sacks and seven solo tackles.

Later that year, he again hit three sacks in a 19-6 win over Duke, which came on the Heels of Carolina’s 30-27 triumph on a Thursday night in Blacksburg. The Heels’ four-game winning streak pushed them to 4-3 in the ACC after an inexplicable 0-3 start.

After UNC

Despite not playing a down in 2010, Quinn was selected by the St. Louis Rams 14th overall in the 2011 draft. After a rookie year which saw him split duty and pick up five sacks, the next three seasons saw him blossom into one of the game’s elite defensive players.

2012 saw him more than double his sack total to 10.5, and 2013 saw a debut on the All-Pro team for the Rams DE. He nearly doubled his sack total again, registering 19.5 (!!!) along with 57 tackles, 7 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and his first touchdown (since high school, at least).

He was rewarded for his efforts with a 6-year, $65.6 million contract just at the start of the 2014 season. He had another nice year in ‘14 with 10.5 sacks, but has battled injuries in 2015-16 and was placed on IR in both seasons. His totals: 17 games, 9 sacks, 5 forced fumbles.

If fully healthy, expect Quinn to return to something approaching his 2013 form on the Rams’ formidable defensive line. He’s definitely still got the same explosiveness.

Though UNC technically disassociated with Quinn, Austin, and Greg Little in 2013, I hope the school realizes that such a move is kind of petty, and invite (well, at least Quinn) back to campus in the near future.