Along with being arguably the most talented football player in the 2023 draft class, former Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter is potentially the most polarizing. With plenty of top-level tape and just months removed from anchoring a national championship defense for the Bulldogs, Carter is still likely to be a high draft pick, despite off-field concerns.
The issues with Carter fit in two main tranches: Concerns about his dedication and motivation to putting in the work as a professional football player and second, concerns about his general character — particularly in light of his involvement in the accident that resulted in a Georgia player and recruiting staffer being killed. Squaring those reasons for pause with the immensely talented and disruptive football player Carter has proven to be will vex NFL general managers right up until someone submits a draft card with Carter’s name on it.
And ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay thinks that will still happen before the Top 10 is out — despite seeing former NFL GM Mike Tannenbaum project Carter at No. 18 to the Detroit Lions during a SportsCenter mock draft special.
“And I’m talking about football character, poor practice habits, not a self-starter, having to be motivated by coaches to get through practice and other things. And so, when the incident happened with the two fatalities, that happened shortly after the national championship and there’s a lot of questions still to be answered. I know it’s been handled in terms of, one year probation, but what really happened? What kind of person are you bringing in to your building? And then he shows up a week or so after the combine nine pounds heavier, doesn’t test. Doesn’t run a 40 and a three cone and a short shuttle. He goes in fresh for his position workouts and doesn’t finish. And that matches up with all the things I was saying prior to the incident, prior to that mock 1.0. So, to me, what are you getting?” McShay asked.
He continued, explaining how he might approach the situation as a GM and why that means Carter still isn’t likely to last beyond the first 10 picks.
“Now, how I’d handle this, I’m going to look at the elite class in this year’s group. Who are the six, seven players who are in the elite class. And then say, ‘You know what, when we get in the second tier after the quarterbacks go, after the three four other guys that I think are elite players in this class, then I’ll take a shot on Jalen Carter.’ Because I know I’m not getting one of the premier guys. That would probably be around eight. And you’ve got Chicago sitting there at No. 9, the Falcons sitting there at No. 8. I think he’s going to be a Top 10 pick, I don’t see him falling this far,” McShay said of Carter going at No. 18. “But it is a tough decision as a general manager. What are you bringing in to your building and do you have enough veteran leadership to make sure that this guy doesn’t become a cancer for your organization.”
Fellow ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. aired a different concern: That Carter (who Tannenbaum mocked to the Lions along with edge rusher Tyree Wilson) could create a bit of a logjam for Detroit.
“Now you’re loading up, if you’re the Lions, on defensive linemen,” Kiper said. “Tyree Wilson at six, now you bring Jalen Carter in. You have Aidan Hutchinson who was the second overall pick last year. Was a great pick, had a heck of a rookie year. So now you’ve got a lot invested in the defensive front. Mike, can they afford that? They have to balance it out, just a bit. I’m with you on Carter. You have Carter inside, Hutchinson outside, boy you’re getting after the quarterback — you throw Wilson in there as well. I just wonder if this is too much of an investment on the defensive line.”
Tannenbaum countered that no, it isn’t, pointing to the way the San Francisco 49ers continually load up at the position.
And he, too, noted that at a certain point, Carter is simply too premier a talent to pass on.
“The only reason he’s there at 18, guys, is because of what we talked about earlier with the off-field situation. At some point it becomes too good of an opportunity.”
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