Overview...Some teams feel that Carter could move to the first level as an edge rusher to take advantage of his impressive blend of size, power, athleticism and outstanding initial quickness off the snap. He has experience at all the linebacker positions, but seems more suited for a strong-side role in the NFL ranks.
The psychology major has a different persona off the field than his on-field “take no prisoners” approach. More often, during his leisure time, if you walk past his dorm room and hear loud laughter behind the door, it is usually Carter watching Rugrats cartoons. The youngest in his family, he has solid sports bloodlines, mother played college volleyball and his father played college basketball.
Body Structure...Carter is a well-built athlete with surprising quickness for a player with such a large frame. He is “muscled up” in his lower frame, demonstrating impressive thickness in his thighs with knotted calves. He has a big wing span (82-inches) to wrap and secure as a tackler and a good bubble and lower body power to maintain anchor vs. larger blockers. He still has room on his frame to fill out to 260-265 pounds, if a team prefers to place him on the edge of their defensive line as a rush end. He has minimal body fat, with a tight waist and hips, along with bear mitts (10 3/8-inches) for hands.
Athletic Ability...Carter is a durable athlete who will play with pain. He has excellent explosiveness coming off the snap. He shows fluid change of direction agility that is evident in his above average range. He maintains balance working down the line and has the hip flexibility to come of his backpedal and drop back in the zone sharply (see 2017 Notre Dame, Florida, Auburn games). He has superb leaping ability (36-inch vertical jump) and plays with above average strength (tested at over 400 pounds in the bench press). He can chase the ball down from sideline to sideline and utilizes his burst to be disruptive going through the gaps to flush out the quarterback (30 pressures in his last 28 games). His lateral range allows him to flow to the ball with great ease of movement. He stays on his feet working through trash and has the quickness to suddenly close on the ball. He has just average size to play on the front wall, but with his outstanding closing burst and good suddenness closing on the ball, he is an ideal fit as a strong-side outside linebacker at the next level. Still, his raw strength will see him have success in one-on-one battles with offensive tackles and tight ends as a rush end. He shows very good balance and body control to consistently make the turn as an edge rusher, but with his shiftiness and change of direction agility, he has no issues avoiding blockers when shooting the gaps. You can see in his game film the last two years that this is a player blessed with great agility, balance and flexibility.
Football Sense...Carter has really developed his read and react skills the last two seasons, as he has the field vision and smarts to excel as a rush end or strong-side linebacker. He appears very good at keeping the action in front of him and is a hard worker who flashes aggression, but will not overreact and get caught up in a slugfest when he locates the ball and has to combat multiple blockers while working through trash. He shows a good feel for plays in front of him and has no problems digesting the playbook. He continues to pick up blocking schemes well and no matter where he is positioned (has played both outside linebacker positions) he has a good grasp of the playbook and a very good understanding of most game situations. He is not the most consistent to react quickly to plays away from him, but he does make proper adjustments to close with urgency on plays directed at him.
Key and Diagnostic Skills...Carter has great ease-of-movement reacting to the play and locating the ball. He has valid instincts, especially recognizing blocking schemes and makes quick and decisive adjustments on the move. On plays in front of him, he is quick to locate the ball while taking on combo blocks playing along the front wall, but in the NFL – with his speed and closing burst - he will be much better utilized in a “freelance” role in the second level as a strong-side linebacker, with appearances as a rush end during obvious passing situations. During the 2017 season, he recorded a total of nine tackles-for-loss while limiting ball carriers to 61 yards on 34 running plays. He has the range to get to the ball suddenly, doing a nice job of opening his hips to change direction and string the plays out. He makes decisive adjustments on the move and has a good nose for the plays in front of him. When he sees the plays develop, he has good reactions to misdirection and play action. He has developed a natural feel for the keeping the action in front of him and can track and flow to the ball well. With his “check-&-go” ability coming off the edge, along with his natural quickness, he is a dangerous threat to constantly impact the pocket, doing a very nice job of blitzing from the weak-side position in 2017. As an edge rusher, he will yield bulk to the offensive tackles, but few edge types have the footwork to retreat and gain advantage as Carter has when he comes out of his stance with suddenness.
Playing Strength and Explosion...Do not let Carter’s decision not to do the bench press at the Combine like he is trying to hide something. His 250-pound frame obviously is muscled and displays his raw power. He is becoming very good at keeping his hands active and inside his framework to defeat reach blocks and keep opposing linemen off his jersey. Even vs. combo blocks, he will not take a side or throttle down. Rather, he’s in there controlling blocks, making proper adjustments to react and play off his assignment to impact the backfield regularly. He is quick to shed blocks thanks to his active hands and long arms, consistently keeping position. He has a solid club move to separate from the larger blockers and is very explosive, generating natural pop upon contact. His ability to shock and jolt with his hands and this allows him to compensate for the size/bulk difference when facing up to the offensive linemen. He takes on the lead blocker and holds his ground at the point of attack. When he gets his hands on an opponent, he will usually leverage, shed and attack the ball. Playing him on the weak-side last year showed that he is comfortable there, but in the NFL, he might be better suited to line back up at the strong-side outside linebacker spot he played in 2016 and early in 2017. The reason I feel he can make thrive in the second level is that when attaching himself to tight ends, slot receivers and the runners in the two-back set, he has become highly proficient in jamming and rerouting opponents away from the thrown ball (has 11 reroutes in 13 regular season games in 2017).
Lateral Pursuit/Range...Carter easily beats a lethargic offensive lineman with his short and long pursuit speed, as he can turn and run in an instant, thanks to loose hips and excellent change of direction agility. He shows very good desire and effort closing on plays in front of him, and possesses the second gear needed to make plays at the opposite side of the field (came out of position to race across the field to record nine touchdown-saving tackles the last two seasons). You can see on 2017 game film (Samford, Notre Dame, Missouri, Florida games) that Carter is an athlete with sudden explosion to the ball. He has excellent sideline-to-sideline range and ease of movement with outstanding balance. His flexibility allows him to plant, stop and redirect suddenly, but sometimes, he will hesitate a bit in long pursuit (seems to stop his legs and then go once he realizes the play’s direction). He has great closing speed and knows how to take proper angles to shorten the field. His change of direction agility allows him to turn and run on the ball. He uses his hands effectively to shed blocks and flow to the play. He has the agility to thread through traffic and the quickness to close. His hand usage let him avoid blockers on the move, showing the desire to get to the ball and cut off the ball carrier. You can see that when he operates in the second level for pass coverage, that he has the lateral moves and run-&-chase ability to make plays along the sidelines. He keeps his feet and balance working through trash, more than enough to play in a stand-up position (has similarities to former Missouri Tiger and current suspended NFLer Aldon Smith). He chases very well moving to the outside runners and makes many of his downfield tackles through sheer hustle.
Use of Hands...Carter has those “big mitts” (10 3/8-inch hands) that coaches love, as he is not only able to use them with force, he does a great job of grabbing and jerking down the bigger offensive linemen, as he is usually the one winning battles with his array of moves (swim, rip, club). He has yet to show if he has natural hands for the interception and needs to gets some reps there in order to properly evaluate. Carter can play in a downed three-point position or stand-up, but due to size issues, playing constantly on the line at the NFL level might see him get engulfed. He is a quality edge rusher, but is more suited to be move-oriented, as he excels when allowed to freelance.
Tackling Ability...Carter has above average strength with outstanding and explosive “tight area” tackling ability. He sidesteps trash well and is a hard, physical tackler (five ball carriers left games after being hit by Carter last season - see Notre Dame, Samford, Auburn SEC title games). He has the body control to break down working in the open field and rarely misses a tackle in space. He is just the type that will consistently face up and wrap up with explosive strikes to punish. Carter makes things happen on the field thanks to his range and arm tackling ability. He knows how to shorten the field by taking proper angles and has the lateral agility to flow to the ball (sometimes is a step late getting in gear vs. plays on the opposite side of the field, though). He stays square and does a good job of wrapping and securing. He plays at a good pad level and has impressive strength for the next level (power is fine for the linebacker position, but size issues might impact his play as a down lineman). He is an explosive hitter with the pop to drop running backs. He brings his arms properly to fit and secure. Even though he plays with reckless abandon, he is not prone to over-pursuing the play. He is an athletic tackler who will bring the ball carrier down when he faces up to his opponent.
Run Defense...No scout is concerned about Carter’s ability to be an impact player vs. the run. Some scouts feel that he has better vision and ball recognition skills playing in the second level than when operating along the line, though. Because Carter is consistently active with his hands, he has the moves to slip and avoid blockers to get through trash, but is best playing vs. the outside run than working in-line. When having to cover the inside rush, he does not have the bulk, but his hand usage and strong anchor prevent the offensive linemen from riding him out, unless they are able to lock on to him. He does have good strength at the point of attack, but has more success when he utilizes his quickness in order to step up and take on the lead blocks. When he uses his hands effectively, Carter is capable of filling the gaps. The thing I like about him is, even when the bigger blockers attack him, he works hard to get back into the play.
Pass Defense...Carter has had very good success handling pass coverage assignments, as he not only has rerouted receivers away from 11-of-30 passes targeted into his area last year, opponents caught just five balls for first downs vs. him in 2017. He gets good depth in his pass drops and shows the range to close on the ball in a hurry. He has more than enough speed to run with the blazing receivers through their routes and the flexibility to mirror his opponent going deep. He has the agility to open his hips and take no wasted steps in transition. He shows keen field vision and is consistent in keeping his head on a swivel. He has excellent leaping ability and timing, but with no interceptions or pass break-ups, it is difficult to evaluate whether he has natural hands, as he’s never really had to go for the ball in flight and pluck it outside his frame. His short area quickness allows him to shadow the tight ends and running backs on underneath routes. Carter also shows much better discipline in his pass drops than most prospective linebackers eligible for the 2018 draft and continues to show that he is very capable in getting square to the ball and reacting when dropping off in the zone.
Zone Defense...Carter has a very good feel for reading the quarterback, as is not the type that will eye the backfield too long. He has the speed and recovery ability to shadow receivers through their routes, and is quick to recognize the patterns developing. When he gets a read on the play, he has the quickness to suddenly break on the ball. He is quick to close on plays in front of him and he appears to be developing that instinctive feel a player needs to recognize and react to the route’s progression.
Pass Rush and Blitz...Carter shows explosion in his initial step and the ability to close and push the pocket. He takes good angles in his backside pursuit and runs with that explosive burst and fine timing to get a great jump on the ball. He closes with desire and is very good at shortening the field by taking proper angles. When working inside, he is very active with his hands, but can get hung up in traffic due to his lack of ideal bulk to defeat the offensive linemen. He has the valid speed to surprise a lethargic weak-side tackle when playing off the edge and does a nice job using his shoulder dip to escape when blockers try to engulf him. Even when yielding 50-70 pounds to an offensive lineman, with his array of moves (highly efficient spin move), he is hard for blockers in their attempts to square him up.
Compares To...Chandler Jones-Arizona Cardinals...The Patriots had good success utilizing Jones and Jamie Collins to play a variety of roles in first- and second-level action. While he is not the pass rusher that Jones is, at least he is not the “lone wolf” refusing to play within the system like Collins was as a Patriot. Carter is an excellent athlete with exceptional speed and quickness for his projected NFL position – strong-side outside linebacker.
Expected Draft Slot: Round 2