Part 5, DL: Does Jalen Carter love football?
The NFL isn't sure. Bob McGinn's draft series continues with the No. 1 question in this year's draft. The 6-foot-3, 323-pounder is a mystery — so 15 football execs are asked this very question.
This is the 39th year that Bob McGinn has written an NFL Draft Series. Previously, it appeared at the Green Bay Press-Gazette (1085-’91), the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (1992-’17), BobMcGinnFootball.com (2018-’19), The Athletic (2020-’21) and, now, GoLongTD.com (2022-’23). Until 2014, many personnel people were quoted by name. The series reluctantly adopted an all-anonymous format in 2015 at the request of many scouts. The 12-minute, 50-question Wonderlic test no longer is administered at the NFL combine. Players generally took the test at spring 2022 timing days, all-star games and at pro days in March and April. The NFL average score is about 19.
Today, Part 5: Defensive Line.
In the days leading up to an NFL draft almost 40 years ago, Dick Steinberg and his peers in the NFL scouting community were coming to grips with the exhausting uncertainty of evaluating defensive linemen.
From the first round of 1985, Bruce Smith and Chris Doleman made the Hall of Fame, Ray Childress was a perennial Pro Bowler, Ron Holmes and William “The Refrigerator” Perry were solid players and Kevin Brooks and Darryl Sims were busts.
“There’s been more mistakes made in the defensive line than any other position in the last 15 years,” said Steinberg, at the time director of player development for the New England Patriots. “The biggest reason is inconsistent competitiveness.”
Nothing much has changed. Other than quarterback, one could argue that a defensive tackle with dominant traits might be the most difficult to find and the hardest to evaluate. Because their value is extreme, teams always have and probably always will loosen their grading criteria and reach on big people.
Four days remain to the draft. Staffers and scouts place eleventh-hour phone calls seeking telling nuggets about a player’s past. The general manager and head coach close the door and watch tape of someone for the 10th time. For teams with a selection in the first round, one player demands a decision. That is Georgia’s Jalen Carter, one of those inconsistent competitors with bountiful athletic gifts.
Even casual football fans know about the tragic mid-January night in Athens, Ga., when Carter raced his Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk against a Ford Expedition late at night just hours after the team’s parade for winning a second consecutive national championship. The Expedition was traveling about 100 miles per hour when it slammed into a power pole. Two people were killed.
Carter lied to police about his proximity to the crash. In mid-March, he pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing. He was sentenced to 12 months on probation and ordered to pay a fine, perform community service and attend a safe-driving course.
“That was all about half lies, half-baked truths,” said an executive in personnel for an NFL team. “The championship is over so he’s out from under their purview and he’s racing on the streets of Athens and people get killed. He had to lie like a dog at the combine. And there’s not one person there at Georgia that will endorse him. What are the red flags here?”
Enraged though they might be about that tragedy not to mention Carter’s ticket in September for driving 89 mph in a 45-mph zone, teams now must make a multi-millionaire business/football decision about a controversial player that remains eligible for the draft.
“The arrest thing and all that, you can deal with it,” said another executive. “You can help guys get through some off-the-field staff and mature.”
In interviews with 15 football executives over the past three weeks, the overriding question regarding Carter is singular: Does he love football?
If teams conclude that Carter does, they might select him. If teams don’t, they will rule him out.