USA TODAY Sports Weekly
Teams face big risk, reward with Georgia’s Carter
Based on his body of work on the field, Jalen Carter seemed a near-lock to be the first defensive player taken in this week’s NFL draft.
The Georgia defensive tackle ran roughshod over offensive linemen who stood in his way to getting into the backfield. When Carter picked up LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels in the SEC championship game and held him aloft with one hand, the video went viral.
NFL teams have pored over more than Carter’s impressive game film.
Police bodycam video from interactions with Carter – including on the early morning of Jan. 15 after the fatal crash of two from the Georgia football program – provides a snapshot of the person they would be getting if they select him April 27.
It’s part of a picture teams are trying to put together about Carter, who is still projected as a top 10 pick. Even after pleading no contest to misdemeanor charges of racing and reckless driving in connection to the crash that killed Georgia offensive lineman Devin Willock and recruiting staffer Chandler LeCroy. He received a year’s probation and 50 hours of community service.
A member of the security division from the Chicago Bears, who traded down from the top spot and now have the No. 9 overall pick, checked with the Athens-Clarke County police department on a previous Carter incident, according to records. A person whose name shows up as being with NFL security sought the police incident report from the crash after warrants were issued for Carter’s arrest March 1 while he was at the scouting combine.
Add to that Carter cut short his workout at Georgia’s Pro Day last month after showing up nine pounds heavier than at the combine.
“It’s all concerning, it’s all red flags that you start to ask more questions,” said Blake Beddingfield, a former director of college scouting with the Tennessee Titans who spent 18 years with the club. “I think scouting is a series of questions you ask yourself constantly. As a scout, that’s what you should be doing. You don’t have a lot of questions on the football side. Why wasn’t he more productive as pass rusher, things like that, but off the field, is he going to be an all-in guy? This is a guy that you should spend a considerable amount of time with, not just on your (top) 30 visits, but you have
to spend time with this guy, you have to get to know him.”
Beddingfield views the 6-foot-3, 314pound Carter as a Pro Bowl-type talent worthy of going in the first three to five selections but said teams needed to speak with not just his coaches, but counselors and teachers at Apopka High in Florida where Carter was a five-star recruit. At Georgia, academic counselors, graduate assistants, trainers and equipment staffers could offer insight.
“I’m talking to everybody about what’s he like away from the building,” said Beddingfield, who runs a football consulting company that works with NFL teams and sports agents. “It can’t just be your area scout or a regional scout. It has to be multiple people with multiple different sources.”
He said scouting is 50% evaluating the player and the other half is essentially being a “private eye. You’re somebody that’s going to go in and find out the dirt. We’re almost like a salesman. You go in and build up a reputation with the coaches and they know they can trust you with very sensitive information that won’t get in the press and won’t get out. They need to tell you that so you’re comfortable taking the player from that school or staying away from him.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart vouched for Carter’s football character by saying that he came back from multiple injuries this season when he could have just shut it down to prepare for the pros.
He instead helped Georgia win a second straight national title with 26 tackles with seven for loss, three sacks and 17 pressures in the final six games of the season.
“He is just a freak show when you are watching him,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “It just looks like he works at a different speed than everybody else on the field.”
Carter had other brushes with Athens police in the last year, getting pulled over and receiving three citations in September after he was clocked going 89 mph in a 45 zone. In June, police ran the tag on a car parked downtown with an Ohio dealer tag and improper registration because they said previously the person behind the wheel was driving recklessly and ran from police. Carter said it was from an NIL deal.
“People are trying to put out these character issues that he has. It’s not true,” former Georgia offensive tackle Broderick Jones said. “I can say that from personal experience. … He’s really just chilled and laid back. He doesn’t do too much. He stays to himself, doesn’t bother nobody.”
Carter, who spoke to HBO Real Sports at his home, acknowledged the crash should cause him to drop in the draft.
“I feel like it’s going to matter a little bit,” Carter said, “because NFL teams look deep into your life. It could have been something I did back in elementary; I’m pretty sure they’d know.”
Carter visited each team selecting from five to 10 – Seattle, Detroit, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia – after his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said he wouldn’t visit teams lower.
Lions general manager Brad Holmes told reporters last week the organization looks at “red flags” on a case-by-case basis and those with perceived issues have become “trusted” in the locker room.
Carter “did a nice job when he came in,” Holmes said. “I enjoyed our time with him. Even after he left, I felt better on him.”
NFL teams rely on their director of security and those with contacts in local and campus police departments to dig deep on prospects. Teams may even have a top prospect talk to a psychologist, Beddingfield said.
He doesn’t think Carter will be off teams’ boards entirely.
Those with a strong veteran presence may be the type of environment where Carter would be a good fit so they can show him the way.
The Eagles at No. 10 have been mentioned because he already knows former Georgia players Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean there.
Most don’t think he will make it that far in the draft.
“Talent, right or wrong, always wins the day over character issues as long as those character issues aren’t something that are going to create a problem,” said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, who received blowback by raising character concerns prior to Carter being charged in connection to the crash. “Any time you can bring in a dominant interior player that are as close as they are to the quarterback, the straight line that they have, how they can affect them even if they don’t get a sack just getting them off the spot, it is invaluable in today’s NFL.”
Seattle at No. 5 with longtime coach Pete Carroll, who has taken chances on players with baggage, could be a fit. So could Chicago at No. 9.
“He won’t get out of the top 10. I’ll just say that right now,” MsShay said. “He’s that talented. He’s just absolutely dominant.”