The most polarizing player in the 2023 NFL Draft might be Jalen Carter. He’s certainly the most controversial. On the field, he is an elite prospect. Carter was the best player on college football’s best defense in 2021 and 2022, a defense that has a strong claim to be the best ever. His skillset, production, and positional value make him a top 5 caliber pick in any draft.
But there’s a good chance that he is not going to go in the top 5. He might even be available for the Eagles at 10. You probably know why, but let’s recap so we’re all on the same page.
On January 15 UGA player Devin Willock and UGA staff member Chandler LeCroy were killed in a car crash that authorities say occurred while LeCroy was street racing Carter. On March 1 while at the Combine, Carter was issued a warrant for his arrest for his involvement in the crash. On March 16, Carter pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing and received probation, a fine, and community service. The day before the plea deal he participated in UGA’s pro day, where he weighed 9 pounds more than he had two weeks prior at the Combine and struggled to the point of not being able to finish.
Unfortunately the January crash wasn’t an isolated incident. In September Carter was cited for going 89 in a 45 mph zone. Bodycam footage showing the police officer that ticketed Carter warned him that he and his teammates needed to stop racing.
“Y’all need to slow down, dude,” the officer said. The officer also told Carter that his windows were tinted too dark and violated Georgia law. The officer issued Carter a citation. “Your break is you’re not going to jail. Because that would make all kinds of news, right?” the officer said. “I don’t know if y’all need to send out a text or something to your teammates, slow down,” the officer says in the video. “We wouldn’t be talking if you were going the speed limit. I could care less about tint violation. But that was reckless. When you are around your teammates, just tell them to slow down. It’s so easy to slow down.” The officer explained the separate citations and information for Carter’s traffic court date and once again repeated his plea to slow down. “Slow down, OK? That’s all I ask.”
In December Todd McShay said that Carter had significant off the field issues.
Todd McShay says Jalen Carter has character issues that could hurt him in the draft…— Jon Tweets Sports (@jontweetssports) December 14, 2022
while simultaneously projecting Jalen Carter to go to the Seahawks with the #2 overall pick.
Was McShay on the sauce during this episode? pic.twitter.com/uk14dBLBeb
With Carter there’s some character issues. Does he get along with everybody, what’s he like to deal with in the locker room. Those sorts of issues, I know it’s early in the process, but I’m forewarning everyone out there, Carter is going to be kind of a hot button name when we talk about some of the intangible aspects of it.
That will be the big discussion. It’s not about his talent, it’s not about his size, it’s not about his explosive takeoff, or finishing as a pass rusher. It’s about the character. Do we want to bring that guy into the building?
At the time McShay was mocked for his comments, which were completely out of the blue. Though he wasn’t talking about street racing and this was a month before the crash that took two lives, McShay’s prediction has come true. The discussion about where Jalen Carter will be drafted isn’t based on his ability, but on if teams want him in their building.
Even the NFL’s own draft profile of him, published before his arrest, noted that scouts have concerns about his maturity. At the annual coach’s meeting Dan Campbell threw more gasoline into the fire when he ambiguously suggested that there is even more to Carter behind the scenes than previously known.
You go through the character when you start talking about, man, the position coach, you start talking to the head coach, you start talking to the resources at the school. And then you begin to develop ‘hey man this is what this guy is really like.’ You talk about Carter, we talked to a teammate of his the other day and, man, he told us some things we didn’t know. That nobody probably would’ve known. It was like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting. Pretty good.’ [inaudible question] It’s interesting.
With a few weeks to go until the draft, teams have to ask themselves if they’d be willing to take Carter if he’s available. It seems the Eagles already have.
"I called the outside of the top ten teams that wanted to bring in Jalen Carter for a visit & asked if they were gonna trade up..— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) April 5, 2023
Once they said no I cancelled the visits because top ten teams have told me that they're taking Jalen if he's there" @DrewJRosenhaus #PMSLive pic.twitter.com/JqWgsTHzVc
There were teams that wanted to bring Jalen in outside of the top 10, and I called those GMs and I said ‘are you thinking of trading up for my client?’ If you are we’ll follow up with a visit, we’ll keep it going. And GMs were honest with me saying ‘no, we don’t think we can get up there.” So I said quite honestly I don’t want to wear my client out to visit teams that you’re not going to be able to get him. I know he’s going in the top 10. Teams in the top 10 have said to me, and I’m not going to identify those teams obviously, but top 10 teams have said to me ‘we’re taking your guy if he’s there.’
10 is a natural number to cut off, no one says “this guy is a top 9 pick” so maybe we shouldn’t read too much into it. But 10 is of course where the Eagles are drafting, and Howie Roseman and Drew Rosenhaus have a strong relationship. This feels like more than just coincidence.
Things can still change between now and the 27th, but it feels like if Jalen Carter is available at 10, he’s the pick. But should he be?
On the field, yes
Since returning to power in 2016, Howie Roseman has used his 1st round picks on a QB, two DL, two OTs, and two WRs, he’s also traded one for a WR. If Jalen Carter is available at 10, he will be the best player available at a position the Eagles prioritize.
This is why the Eagles made this trade with the Saints last year, and why they made a similar trade with the Dolphins the year before. They were hoping to get a top pick to get a premium player at a premium position. If Carter is available, they’ll have it. To then not take him would be antithetical to making those moves and their entire organizational philosophy.
The Eagles have won a Super Bowl and reached another in the past six seasons with strong line play on both sides of the ball. They lost their best DT in free agency and their leader in DT snaps played last season is 32. There’s room for the top DT in the draft on the roster. They’re also in a position where they do not need whoever they take with their first round picks (assuming they make two) to be major contributors in 2023. The Eagles have, even before Howie Roseman took over, been perfectly comfortable easing 1st round DL in. Corey Simon started every game in his rookie season in 2000 but since then they have drafted seven defensive linemen in the 1st round and the only one to start more than half the season was Fletcher Cox, who started just 9 games. Carter won’t need to start if the Eagles draft him, a rarity for a non-QB top 10 pick.
The Eagles are in a unique position for a team drafting so high to put Carter in a low pressure situation to allow him to develop on and off the field. They don’t need Carter–or whoever the pick is–to be an impact player right away, just as they didn’t need Jordan Davis to be an impact player last year.
They’re also in a position to know more about him than most teams. In addition to their homework talking to coaches and current teammates–and a hat tip to Dan Campbell–the Eagles, along with the Packers (who aren’t currently in a position to draft Carter) and the Falcons (who at 8th overall might be) have two of Carter’s former UGA teammates on their roster in Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean.
Not to diminish the death of two people, but let us not overlook that college aged kids routinely do stupid things. Sometimes they do really stupid things. Of course they aren’t normally involved in accidents where multiple people died, but to condemn someone for being reckless when they’re 21 would be absurd. Nor should we overlook that the law has passed its judgment on his actions and handed out its punishment, there is no pending investigation or trial casting a shadow over his status.
And at any age or legal status, NFL teams don’t really care. They really only stop employing players when they are no longer good enough. They don’t hand out trophies for the team with the best ethics, Deshaun Watson got $230 million. Someone is going to draft Jalen Carter, and it sounds like it’s going to be pretty high.
Off the field, maybe
The reason to draft Jalen Carter is clear cut, he’s the best prospect at his position. The reason to not draft Jalen Carter is also clear cut, as Todd McShay put it, “do we want to bring that guy into our building?”
There is a saying that comes up every draft: money makes you more of what you are. It isn’t true of every player, but it’s true of enough of them. People can change, but unfortunately not everyone who needs to does. The NFL has seen a recent reminder of it.
In 2014 Joe Mixon was caught on video punching a woman in the head, he eventually received a deferred sentence and community service in a plea deal. In 2016 he was suspended for an altercation with a parking attendant. Last week he was charged for an incident in February of this year where he allegedly threatened a woman with a gun.
The fatal crash and his arrest should be the wake up call that Athens police warned Carter about. But what if it isn’t? Unfortunately not everyone who reaches a crossroads in their life chooses the right path. Would “falling” to the 10th overall pick be a wake up call? To a team that just played in a Super Bowl going to do it? It’s not hard to imagine a player who just led his college team to back to back national championships who gets drafted by a Super Bowl team not seeing much incentive to change his ways.
And if it was the spark for Carter to improve, how would a team determine that? The crash happened after Carter’s final game, since then he’s been preparing for the draft. Draft preparation isn’t just fine tuning technique and position drill reps for the Combine, pro days, and individual workouts, it is also being coached up on interviews. For any prospect with off the field concerns, teams have to determine how much stock they can put into an interview that a good agent gets his client coached up for.
How much does a team knock him for his pro day? Carter had been served an arrest warrant two weeks prior and was undoing plea negotiations, it would be unfair to hold his pro day performance completely against him as it happened during an extremely stressful period. But he also never planned to do position drills at the Combine, which is common for top picks. To show up just two weeks later and not be able to finish drills calls into question what his fitness level was like before the warrant was dropped. If he was unable to workout during that time, Rosenhaus should have pulled him from the pro day and scheduled a workout a few weeks later for any and all teams to attend.
Like any player with character concerns, every team in a position to draft Jalen Carter has to determine to the best of their ability if he has and can mature. Wherever Jalen Carter is drafted, if he fails because of what he does or doesn’t do on the field, that’s just part football. There are always draft busts, every pick is a risk. But if he fails because of what he does or doesn’t do off the field, no one can say they weren’t warned.
Should the Eagles draft Jalen Carter?
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