ATHENS, GA – There are many talent evaluators around the NFL who believe that Jalen Carter is the best player available in the NFL Draft. But whether he goes first, fifth, or somewhere significantly south in the draft depends largely on whether he: 1) has a major physical and mental shift from where he appears to be sitting now, or 2) a team locks up. His talent and betting on him will be the player he can be.
Georgia held its pro day on Wednesday for its top scoring prospects. It’s one of a series of important events for players who conducted 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 officials, coaches, and members of the media in attendance saw an overweight Carter huffing and puffing through the few drills that were set up for the defensemen at the Georgia internship facility. He did not participate in any other skills tests, nor the 40-yard dash. He also, not surprisingly, chose not to speak to the media, as did other participating Bulldogs players.
Carter weighed 323 pounds, according to an unnamed league source, so he could speak freely. This is 13 pounds heavier than what was listed during the Georgia season. It’s also nine pounds heavier than the 314 he weighed in the Exploration Pack two weeks ago. It clearly wasn’t the nine pounds of added muscle. He looked flabby. He looked excessively curvy after the workouts. He seemed like a risk to any team that might decide to offer him a signing bonus of over $20 million.
Some NFL officials believe Carter’s ideal playing weight is under 310 pounds to make better use of his passing and athleticism skills. Hugely talented players cannot reach their athletic expectations if they allow their bodies to become temples of death. The Wednesday that followed Carter’s decision not to practice on set made it worse, even though he did interview individual teams there.
“Anyone who takes him in has to know what he’s getting into,” said the league source. “Everyone will have to do their due diligence and then make a decision.”
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At his peak, Carter was 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 #1 tag with the other. He was a First Team All-American, All-SEC Team, and everything every NFL team needs and wants.
But there are important questions now.
We can’t know where this is going. Putting aside the two misdemeanors with which Carter was charged—racing and reckless driving, stemming from the accident that killed Georgia teammate Devin Willock and recruiting assistant Chandler Lecroy—major questions about Carter that have existed among professional scouts since through the season relate to her consistency and work ethic.
The payoff, as Georgia coach Kirby Smart emphasized Wednesday, was that the defensive tackle dealt with injuries during the season and, in fact, should be applauded for being the opposite of laziness.
“I get a lot of questions about Galen, which were probably inevitable anyway,” Smart said. “I got a lot of questions about (first pick) Travon Walker when he got out. But with the (accident) situation, there are probably more questions and more direct ones, and I’m just trying to be honest and talk about the experiences we’ve had here. Galen didn’t have to come back To play after his first injury, nor after his second injury, and either way he wanted to overcome that injury and begged us to put him in the games he got injured. So the competitive personality he showed was really good.”
Here’s the catch, and it also applies to Stetson-Bennett’s misdemeanor public intoxication in Dallas in late January. NFL teams are keeping score now – not just how they look but how they act. It’s hard enough to decide who spends a draft and who gives the money. But when a guy does stupid things in public — and a player like Carter can influence the course of a game — it gives the team pause.
And Wednesday was not a good look. There were already questions lingering about where Carter might have been psychologically after the accident, and how he has dealt with himself being in the negative spotlight so suddenly.
Even Smart admitted, “I can only imagine knowing what he’s dealing with internally, as a survivor of a tragic accident, and knowing the outcome of that accident. There are some mental health matters you have to be able to help with. I can’t speak for what he’s going through. It to answer these questions. But we will certainly try to support him as much as we can.”
Stetson Bennett, who has his own set of questions to contend with, defended Carter. He has been called “special” and “rock”.
“We know what comes with the territory we’re in right now, the things that will end, the situations we put ourselves in, and how we take responsibility,” Bennett said. “Being a grown man is our job. So I think he gets it. … He knows he’s the best on the field but he still does things the right way. He’s in the right gaps for the backers to fit in. I don’t mind the range defense. It’s clear he can get Quarterback. He’s surprising, he’s powerful in his surprise. Just right to the foot. If you look at him, he’s always in a position of strength. That’s why he blows people off the line.”
Everything is accurate – when Carter is at his best. But this wasn’t the Carter we saw Wednesday. He has a month before the draft to get in shape and ease his fears. He has a month to realize he’s in the midst of a job interview and has just walked in in a T-shirt and flip flops looking like he just got out of bed.
(Photo: Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
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