The Bears currently have two things to look forward to: the return of Justin Fields from injury and the 2023 offseason.
As of now, they hold the No. 2 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Things can and will change between now and then, but it seems highly likely that they’ll end up with an early pick in the first round come April.
Over the next few months, I will be highlighting several 2023 draft prospects who could be first-round targets for the Bears. After highlighting Will Anderson on Tuesday, I’ve decided to take a look at another player many have pegged as a target for the Bears: Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter.
Weight: 300 pounds
Carter was a five-star recruit in the state of Florida in the class of 2020. He played in 8 games during his freshman season, notching 14 tackles and 3 tackles for a loss as a backup defensive lineman. He also scored a touchdown through the air, catching a one-yard pass as a fullback, where Georgia would occasionally line him up at over the course of his career.
Despite playing on a Bulldogs defensive line that had 3 first-round picks on it in the 2021 season, Carter was arguably the best defender Georgia had that year. He finished the year with 37 tackles, 3 sacks, 8.5 tackles for a loss and a pass deflection. He was named a second-team All-SEC defender for his performance, and he played a key role in Georgia’s winning the national championship that year. Carter has stepped into a bigger role in 2022, and though he has missed some time due to a minor MCL injury, he has still tallied 25 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 tackles for a loss and 2 forced fumbles through 10 games.
Jalen Carter is an explosive SOB.
Georgia saw the likes of Travon Walker, Devonte Wyatt and Jordan Davis all test incredibly well athletically leading up to the 2022 draft, and they should be able to see similar results with Carter in 2023. He is a freak athlete with tremendous first-step quickness and stellar straight-line speed for an interior defensive lineman. His agility in space is remarkable, and the flexibility he showcases in his waist, knees and ankles are unparalleled by any defensive tackle in this class.
Carter is best as a 3-technique defensive tackle, but he has experience in such alignments as 2-technique, 2i, 1-technique and as a true 0-tech nose. His slipperiness as a rusher is impressive, as he showcases the ability to dip past blockers and get into the backfield more effectively than even many defenders 50 pounds lighter than him. He has an impressive rip move and has shown off other techniques like swims, bull rushes, stabs and two-hand shucks in his arsenal.
According to PFF, Carter is the highest-graded Power 5 defender in the nation this year. This is coming off of a 2021 season in which he already led all defensive tackles with a 90.0 pass-rushing grade. His sheer athleticism makes him a game breaker along the defensive line, and how quickly he gets off the ball and picks up momentum means that opposing offenses have no choice but to go out of their way to focus on him. He was great in the 2021 season, but he might honestly have been ever better in 2022, as his play strength and ability to win with power have improved this year.
Because he isn’t the biggest defensive tackle out there, Carter isn’t necessarily the best two-gapper in this draft class.
Though he showed improvement in this regard from 2021 to 2022, Carter can still improve his anchor strength a little bit. Part of these issues come from inconsistent pad level, as he has a tendency to pop upright coming out of his stance and fail to lower his center of gravity. He’s certainly flexible enough to be able to get better at generating more knee bend, but his ability to eat up gaps against the run is still inconsistent to this point.
Carter’s actual collegiate production is a tad worrisome, too. Though he has been extremely efficient in terms of generating pressure and making his presence felt in the backfield, he has just 5 career sacks as of this writing. You bet on tools at the next level, and pressures and efficiency numbers are truthfully a better way to measure a player’s consistency, but one would’ve wished to see Carter tally a few more sacks during his time at Georgia.
Fit with the Bears
Jalen Carter’s fit in the Bears’ defensive scheme can be describe in one word: frictionless.
The 3-technique defensive tackle has been described by Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams as “one of the staples of the defense”. Athleticism, instinctive, and an ability to beat one-on-ones were tabbed as crucial aspects of playing the position in Chicago’s scheme. In the different variations of this current defensive scheme — even going back to the likes of Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy — players like DeForest Buckner, Tommie Harris, Warren Sapp, Henry Melton and Jason Hatcher have all made Pro Bowls at 3-tech.
Carter is not only an explosive athlete with absurd value as a pass-rushing interior defender, but he has shown encouraging signs of improvement in terms of play strength and gap-eating against the run. He has managed to get even better in 2022 compared to his stellar 2021 campaign, which shouldn’t seem possible, but it has been the case. He and Will Anderson are far and away the two best players on my big board, and while a debate can be had about who should be higher on the Bears’ board, there’s no denying Carter would be a serious upgrade along the interior.