I know you’ve heard the narrative about Jalen Carter in the College Football Playoff.
Many people across Twitter, other forms of social media and fan forums across the nation have complained that the Georgia defensive lineman didn’t perform well in the Bulldogs’ two playoff games to close out the 2022 season. Looking at the box score, 3 combined tackles in his two biggest games of the year with no sacks isn’t a good look at all for someone expected to be one of the top prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft.
This is especially prevalent among fans of the Bears, who have been linked often to Carter. Whether draft pundits have Chicago staying at No. 1 or moving back to No. 4 in a projected trade with the Colts, Carter has been a very popular option for them in mock drafts. That put him under a microscope from the fanbase when they tuned in to watch Georgia’s run to a national championship, and some weren’t all that impressed.
Are those concerns warranted? If so, are they enough to prevent the Bears from taking him in Round 1 of the 2023 NFL Draft?
First. let’s look at the numbers. The advanced statistics are a bit kinder to Carter than the box scores:
Jalen Carter vs. Ohio State
- 36 pass-rushing snaps
- 5 hurries, 1 hit, 5 pressures
- 13.9% pressure rate, 0.019 Points Earned per rush, -0.020 Points Above Average per rush
- 15 run snaps
- 1 tackle, 3 yards average tackle depth
Jalen Carter vs. TCU
- 20 pass-rushing snaps
- 2 hurries, 2 hits, 3 pressures
- 15% pressure rate, 0.075 Points Earned per rush, 0.023 Points Above Average per rush
- 11 run snaps
- 2 tackles, 3.5 yards average tackle depth
It’s tough to compare two games to the span of an entire season of defensive tackle play among several different schemes and skill sets, but it’s worth noting that only one qualified defensive tackle in the entire FBS (B.J. Green II from Arizona State) had over 100 pass rushes and generated a higher pressure rate than either of Carter’s pressure rates from his games against Ohio State and TCU.
The pressure rates don’t lie: Carter was able to make his presence felt in Ohio State’s and TCU’s respective backfield.
Those two teams didn’t make it easy for him to do so, and I’ll talk a bit more about double-teams later. That said, Carter did a very good job of using his sheer speed and power to push blockers back, penetrating the pocket and putting pressure on both of the opposing quarterbacks, C.J. Stroud and Max Duggan.
Big-time 2023 NFL Draft prospect battle in the Peach Bowl as Georgia’s Jalen Carter wins immediately with a club-swim but Ohio State’s CJ Stroud avoids the rush for the first down.— Seven Rounds in Heaven (@7RoundsInHeaven) January 1, 2023
Stroud is answering questions tonight about his ability to make plays out of structure. pic.twitter.com/BFQYdmuxQI
With this rep in particular, the precision and power of his club and the coordination he showcases in his swim is encouraging, as is his closing speed in space. Though C.J. Stroud was able to avoid Carter, the ability to generate pressure and force a quarterback out of structure is a valuable trait.
When watching Carter over the course of the last two seasons, his ability to keep his legs churning to get into backfield stands out as a strength, and we saw it again in his final two collegiate games. You’ll see it in this first play; even with a generally higher center of gravity, his sheer power is unbelievable and allows him to fight through a double-team.
These three plays in a row vs. TCU lastnight provide a snapshot of the positives with Jalen Carter as a prospect: pic.twitter.com/W7eTjk7WY5— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) January 10, 2023
You didn’t see it as much against Ohio State because of a heavier Buckeye focus on passing as opposed to runs up the middle with starting running back TreVeyon Henderson out and second-stringer Miyan Williams limited to just five snaps. You didn’t see it as much against TCU, since Carter didn’t have any many reps once the game became a blowout.
But as you’ll see in the third play on the aforementioned reel, Carter does a good job of holding up blocks against the run and knowing when to free his hands up to make a tackle. He maintains his balance through the initial double-team and shucks the block to get to the TCU running back.
Carter’s quickness off the snap, when allowed to penetrate as his sole responsibility, made him an issue for both teams to block, along with his lateral agility. Georgia used him on stunts a bit in the playoffs, as they did in over the course of the 2022 season. His mobility turning the corner and getting to the outside is much better than the typical defensive tackle, and there were a few plays where Carter was able to create a nice path to the quarterback for him with his agility.
Former NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz points this out about Carter in Jordan Reid’s aforementioned tweet.
He’s not even in an optimal pass rush stance and he’s getting home.— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) January 10, 2023
Carter has dominated at the collegiate level heavily because of his physical tools, and his hand refinement has grown quite a bit during his time with the Bulldogs. His arsenal as a pass-rusher and his ability to remain fighting through double-teams is certainly impressive, too. He has his flaws, some of which I’ll get to in this article. Among those that aren’t mentioned, his base is a bit narrow at the point of attack, and his weight distribution in his stance isn’t super polished.
Here’s the thing, though: his issues are coachable. He’s so gifted from a physical perspective that he should still be plenty efficient at the NFL level. Remember: you’re not just taking a prospect for what they can do for you in Year 1, but rather, what they can become in the long run. Carter is a great collegiate defensive lineman with the potential to become a great NFL defensive lineman.
A common criticism of Carter’s performance against Ohio State was a lack of conditioning. Some have argued that he either looked tired or lazy off the snap over various courses of the game, whether it be in the second half or the entire game. I did notice that Carter looked a little bit slower in his first step as the game progressed.
I’d argue that some of his reps are being misinterpreted, as Georgia utilizes some read-and-react techniques on their defensive line as opposed to just firing full speed to penetrate the backfield. Some of these plays can make it seem like a defender is slow off the snap, but it’s actually by design. That doesn’t totally exonerate Carter getting a bit slower later in the game, but speed was far from the issue when he had bad reps.
In fact, Carter’s athleticism was a positive more often than not, as I mentioned earlier. The bigger issue was weight distribution.
This has been a relative weakness in Carter’s game for some time, as I elaborated in my scouting report of him from back in November:
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.
On the plays where Carter shut down, it was often due to a high center of gravity. Because of his failing to keep his pads low and his weight underneath him, it made it much easier for opposing blockers to control him at the point of attack and knock him off balance. There were also a few reps where he leaned over a bit too much off the snap, which also affects his balance
All things considered, I believe Carter was a bit better against TCU than he was against Ohio State. The advanced analytics back me up on that, and watching the tape, it’s clear that a lighter workload helped out his explosiveness and ensured he could play at maximum stamina on a regular basis.
When evaluating Carter’s performance — not just in these games, but when looking at his production in general — it’s worth noting that the double-team rate he faces is quite high. Part of why the “he got tired” narrative against Ohio State has some validity was partially because of such a strong performance from Buckeyes center Luke Wypler, but also the approach of double-teaming Carter early and often to batter him physically and wear him down. He was still able to make his presence felt in the form of pressures and attracting double-teams to free up his teammates for winnable one-on-one situations.
It’s also worth noting that Carter’s 49 total defensive snaps tied for the most he’s had in a single collegiate game. Christian Williams of Footballguys made a good point about Georgia’s defensive line usage and also came to a similar conclusion about Carter’s OSU performance:
Jalen Carter's 49 defensive snaps (excluding special teams) in the playoff game were tied for his career-high.— Christian Williams (@CWilliamsNFL) January 4, 2023
Georgia rotates their defensive line pretty religiously. Always has under Kirby Smart.
Jalen Carter was facing double teams almost every snap. He played very well.
Carter may need to be eased into a consistent three-down role in the NFL, as he hasn’t proven much in the way of being a near-every-down starter. Then again, defensive linemen naturally get rotated often because of the physical nature of the position.
The double-team rate is part of the appeal with Carter. His sheer presence as an athletic specimen with a penchant of getting into the backfield requires teams to key in on him more than the average defensive lineman. Having a player like him opens up one-on-one chances for his teammates, and even when he’s double-teamed, Carter has proven that he isn’t truly out of a play.
Would you like to see more sack production out of Carter? Yes, and taking him with a top-5 selection implies belief that he can put up bigger sack numbers down the line in the NFL. However, the elite pressure rate he consistently generates, the plays he makes against the run, and the opportunities he opens up for his teammates makes him a valuable entity in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Assuming the Bears make additional upgrades to their defensive line in free agency, having an explosive 3-technique defensive lineman like Carter would be go a long way towards turning their defense into a legitimately respectable unit.
Some people may have called Carter “tired” watching him in the playoffs, which is ironic, because those fans are wrongfully sleeping on him. With that terrible dad joke, I leave.