It’s anyone’s guess exactly how the NFL draft will shake out later this month, but the areas of need that seem to carry the highest level of importance for the Washington Redskins are quarterback, pass rusher and nose tackle. Some would add wide receiver and left guard to the mix as well.

Over the next few weeks leading up to the draft, we’ll take a closer look at the players whom the Redskins have the best shots at landing, and today it’s North Carolina defensive end/outside linebacker prospect Robert Quinn.


(2008 photo/Gerry Broome/AP)

The Redskins obviously would love it if the top OLB prospect, Von Miller, were to drop into their laps at No. 10. But that’s not happening. Most projections and mock drafts don’t have the Texas A&M product falling past No. 5 overall.

The next best option: Quinn, a 6-foot-5, 268-pound junior who didn’t even play for North Carolina this past season. Quinn was ruled ineligible for accepting jewelry and travel accommodations from an agent.

But Quinn, who as a sophomore recorded 52 tackles and 11 sacks and impressed both at the NFL scouting combine and at Carolina’s pro day, still is believed to be talented enough to pick up where he left off and be an impact player in the NFL whether he’s used as a defensive end or outside linebacker.

“If you feel you have to get that pass rusher, Robert Quinn could be a tremendous pass rusher in the NFL,” says ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, who projects Quinn to go 11th to Houston. “This kid was unbelievable two years ago. He’s gonna be a freakish workout guy. You might feel this kid can be an unbelievable guy. He would’ve been a first, second or third pick had he played this year. You can make an argument for Quinn, no question.”

Quinn spent the last year training in Chapel Hill, Pensacola, Fla. and Chicago, where he worked with former NFL wide receiver Don Beebe. He says that although he always played with his hand in the dirt in college, he did drop back into coverage at times and has no problem switching to linebacker full-time.

“Whatever I set my mind to,” Quinn said at the combine. “If they want me to at free safety, I’m going to play it for you. I really think I can. … My strength, I feel like I’ve got a never-ending motor. I feel like I’m the fastest guy on the field and I try not to let nobody’s hands get on me.”

Quinn later added: “With my confidence, I think I’m the best, to be honest. Not to sound cocky or conceited, but that’s just how I approach the game. I want to be the best, and I think I am.”

One of the reasons for Quinn’s confidence likely stems from the fact that already in his playing career, he has overcome a much more serious obstacle and then went on to produce at a high level.

In high school, Quinn had a brain tumor diagnosed. Doctors, who in October of 2007 performed surgery to drain fluid from the area and shrink the dime-sized mass, told Quinn he would never play sports again.

“At one point they told me I should have been brain-dead,” Quinn said. “It was kind of that Boobie Miles moment when I looked at my mom when they told me I wouldn’t play sports again, and I became that big, old baby and busted out in tears. It was just heartbreaking. But it didn’t slow me down. And three, four years later, I’m still going.”

Quinn obviously proved the doctors wrong and now suffers no effects from the tumor, which he has checked every six months. Now he is working to prove to NFL teams that he has learned from the “selfish mistake” he made in college, that he has matured and is capable of becoming the NFL’s next great pass rusher.

“People always tell me I’m ready to be the next Julius Peppers or DeMarcus Ware,” Quinn says. “I always tell them, ‘Why do I need to be the second of somebody else? Why can’t I be the first Robert Quinn?’ But I guess being compared to them two ain’t so bad.”