ATHENS, Ga. — There are several talent evaluators in the NFL who believe Jalen Carter is the best player available in the NFL Draft. But whether he goes first or fifth or somewhere significantly south in the draft largely depends on whether: 1) he has a significant physical and mental turnaround from where he seems to be sitting now, or 2 ) a team locks in on his talent and bets he’ll be the player he can be.
Georgia held its Pro Day for top draft-eligible prospects on Wednesday. It’s part of an important series of events for players who have an effective four-month interview to show off the best versions of themselves.
But the best version of Jalen Carter was not on display. NFL personnel officials, coaches and members of the media in attendance saw an overweight Carter huff and puff through the few drills that have been set up for defensive linemen at the indoor training center in Georgia. He did not participate in any other skill tests, nor the 40-yard dash. Unsurprisingly, he also chose not to speak to the media, as did other participating Bulldogs players.
Carter weighed 323 pounds, according to a league source who was granted anonymity so he could speak freely. That’s 13 pounds heavier than he was listed at during Georgia’s season. He also weighs nine pounds more than the 314 he weighed at the combine two weeks ago. It was clearly not nine pounds of extra muscle. He looked flabby. He looked too out of breath after the exercises. He looked like a risk for any team that might decide to hand him a signing bonus of over $20 million.
Some NFL officials believe Carter’s ideal playing weight is under 310 pounds to get the most out of his passing-rush skills and athleticism. Extremely talented players cannot reach their athletic projections if they allow their bodies to become temples of doom. This Wednesday following Carter’s decision not to train at the combine makes it even worse, despite interviewing individual teams there.
“Anyone who takes him will have to know what he’s getting into,” the league source said. “Everyone is going to have to do their due diligence and then make a decision.”
NFL Mock Draft 2023: After Panthers trade Bears to No. 1, they take CJ Stroud
In his prime, Carter is a dominant player who had a viral moment in the SEC Championship Game when he lifted LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels with one arm while throwing the No. 1 sign with his other. hand. He was a first-team All-American, all-SEC, and All-Everything Every NFL Team Needs and Wants.
But now there are important questions.
We cannot know where this leads. Aside from the two misdemeanors Carter has been charged with – racing and reckless driving, stemming from the crash that killed Georgia teammate Devin Willock and recruiting aide Chandler LeCroy – the main questions about Carter that have been among professional scouts since the season linked to his consistency and work ethic.
The counterweight to that, as Georgia coach Kirby Smart reaffirmed on Wednesday, was that the defensive tackle has struggled with injuries over the season and, in fact, should be commended for being the opposite of lazy.
“I get a lot of questions about Jalen, which was probably unavoidable anyway,” Smart said. “I had a lot of questions about (No. 1 pick) Travon Walker when he came out. But with the (accidental) situation there are probably more and more direct questions, and I’m just trying to be honest and talk about the experiences we’ve had here. Jalen didn’t have to come back to play after his first injury, nor after his second injury, and both times he wanted to overcome that injury and he begged us to put him in games where he was injured. So the competitive nature he showed was really good.
Here’s the problem, and it also applies to Stetson Bennett’s misdemeanor public intoxication arrest in Dallas in late January. NFL teams are keeping score now — not just how you look, but how you act. Deciding who to spend a draft pick on and who to give money to is hard enough. But when a guy does stupid things in public – and it’s a player like Carter who can impact the course of any game – it gives the team pause.
And Wednesday was not a good look. There were already lingering questions about Carter’s psychological situation after the accident and how he had behaved under the suddenly negative spotlight.
Even Smart acknowledged, “I can only imagine knowing what he’s dealing with internally, as a survivor of a tragic accident, knowing the outcome of that accident. There are mental health issues you need to be able to help with. I can’t speak to what he’s going through. He must answer these questions. But we will definitely try to support it as much as possible. »
Stetson Bennett, who has his own set of issues to overcome, defended Carter. He called it “special” and “a rock”.
“We know what comes with the territory where we are now, and the things that will come out, and the situations that we put ourselves in, and how to be responsible,” Bennett said. “Being an adult is our job. So I think he understands it. …Knows he’s the best on the pitch but always does things the right way. It’s in the right gaps for funders to accommodate. I don’t mind defending the race. Obviously can get after the quarterback. It is sudden, it is strong in its suddenness. Just the right footwork. If you look at him, he is still in a position of power. That’s why he blows people off the line.
It’s all right – when Carter is at her best. But that wasn’t the Carter we saw on Wednesday. He has a month before the draft to get in shape and ease any concerns. He’s got a month to realize he’s in the middle of a job interview and he just walked in wearing a T-shirt, flip flops and looking like he just rolled out of bed.
(Photo: Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)