April 28, 2023
Jalen Carter was confident he was not falling out of the top 10, believing that he had a backstop from Howie Roseman to keep him toward the top of the 2023 NFL Draft. His confidence in the Eagles' top executive was well-founded, with Roseman moving up a spot in the draft in order to secure the Georgia Bulldogs' star lineman.
Our own Jimmy Kempski had you prepared for this very moment — he had the Eagles taking Carter in a trade-up in his final mock draft of the pre-draft process, so if you weren't listening to Mr. Kempski, I don't know what else you need to see at this point.
Here's a quick rundown of what to expect from Mr. Carter.
None of Carter’s concerns are about what he has done on the football field. There aren’t many interior linemen who draw comparisons to Warren Sapp as a prospect, and in Carter’s case, it’s not just because both players are from Apopka, Florida. At the University of Georgia, Carter flashed the physical tools and competitiveness to impact the defensive interior consistently, and there are refinements to make that can take his game to an even higher level in the pros. That's a scary thought when you consider how thoroughly he crushed the competition at Georgia.
A first-team All-American despite missing time due to injury, Carter’s versatility was a huge part of Georgia’s back-to-back title run. Carter possesses significant power and excellent body control, which helped set the tone for Georgia’s best-in-the-nation rushing defense last season. Carter was a multi-sport athlete in high school, playing basketball in addition to lifting weights competitively, which show up in his ability to stonewall blockers and slide through gaps. His pass-rushing requires more projection, with scouts concerned regarding his predictability with swim moves, but his speed out of his stance and flexibility allowed him to side-step some of those concerns at the college level.
Interior linemen who don’t have to sacrifice pace for power or vice versa are worth their weight in gold, as the Eagles were fortunate to learn throughout most of Fletcher Cox’s run in Philadelphia. We already have the proof of concept for what Carter will look like next to hulking defensive tackle Jordan Davis, as the two combined to dominate the middle of the line a year prior before the Eagles selected Carter with a first-round pick last season. They will be a hard combination to run against at any point in a game, and for an Eagles defensive line that nearly broke the record for team sacks in the season last year, this is a case of the rich getting richer.
Questions about Carter’s character and maturity have popped up throughout the draft process, starting when ESPN’s Todd McShay mentioned his concern over Carter’s makeup in mid-December. That red flag from McShay turned into a five-alarm fire in mid-January, Carter was part of a street-racing incident that led to two deaths, which led to him pleading no contest to charges during a court appearance in March. Evaluating Carter as a person is/was arguably more important than the tape, which at one point made him the No. 1 prospect in the entire class.
To illustrate the thorniness of drafting Carter, look no further than ESPN's initial reporting on the pick. Mr. Scoops himself, Adam Schefter, said that agent Drew Rosenhaus had Carter on the phone with Howie Roseman on Thursday in an effort to convince him to bet on Carter. Veteran reporter Chris Mortensen took it a step further, saying that multiple teams in front of the Eagles had Carter off of their board entirely.
The Eagles evidently came out of this process feeling good enough about Carter the person to take a swing on Carter the football player. Undoubtedly, the lived experience of former Dawgs teammates Davis and Nakobe Dean played a small part.
On paper, this is a pretty straightforward decision. In the last two drafts, the Eagles took a pair of the most important players on one of the best college defenses of all time. They are betting the future of their defensive line on translating that to NFL success, and on Carter getting his head on straight with guidance from a vet-heavy, character-conscious group in Philly.
One guy I think we need to include here is McShay, who obviously became part of Carter's story in the pre-draft process. On a recent appearance on the Ryen Russillo podcast, McShay clarified some of his concerns by pointing out Carter's competitiveness and desire to get back on the field last season.
The other thing is like with Jalen, specifically, I've spent 95% of my time talking about how great of a player he is on the field. I even emphasize, like, yeah, you might not get in practice what you want to get in practice. But that dude will play his ass off for you.
There's also something to be said for this. He got an ankle injury and missed a couple games in the middle of the season. He's going to be top-five pick at that point, right? He doesn't shut it down. And people will say, Well, we he who wouldn't want to go for a national championship. And of course, he's not going to shut it down. Well, Jaxon Smith-Njigba was going for a national championship. [Russillo]
Important context to consider.
Now let's check in on a more traditional scouting report. From Lance Zierlein over at NFL.com:
When assessing a player’s draft grade, we take into consideration areas like traits, toughness, explosiveness, skill level, potential for growth and positional projections. Across the board, Carter checks out in a big way. However, his maturity will need to be vetted by each team as they make their evaluations. The tape shows a defender with odd- or even-front versatility and a rare blend of first-step quickness and leverage through contact. He’s capable of finding quick wins against sloppy guard play and finishes the play once he’s in the backfield. His hand usage can be violent or subtle, but the feet are always active and searching for an opening. Based upon talent, traits and projection, Carter appears ready to step into the NFL and become a productive three-down talent with Pro Bowl potential. [NFL.com]
Put it like this — Carter is a player who is likely to wow you on the field, a remarkable athlete who looks destined for greatness by people like you and I who mostly watch the Eagles from afar. Where his career will be defined, though, is everywhere else, in the areas where he must meet the challenges (on and off the field) that are set by his coaches, teammates, front office, and owner. He has the whole world in front of him, and it's on Carter to take advantage of the opportunity.
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