North Carolina Senior
Physical, rangy defender with speed to go sideline to sideline. Can be a punishing hitter when he gets downhill. Closes quickly on the ball and can make stops in the open field. Will thump a receiver going over the middle. Is comfortable playing up on the line of scrimmage. Able to set the edge vs. the run. Is able to get upfield and make stops in the backfield. Shows good burst off the corner as a blitzer. Is able to cover the back in the flat and shows some potential when working in zone because of his ability to move in space.
Doesn't play with great recognition or instincts. Gets caught out of position and blows assignments in coverage because he'll bite on play fakes and get caught peeking. Needs to show more awareness in zone. Doesn't take great angles in pursuit, tending to rely on his speed to make the play. Doesn't have great hips or change of direction skills when working in man coverage. Tends to hit rather than wrap up, seemingly looking for the highlight reel hit, and thus can get exposed at times at the point of attack. Doesn't really show any pass rush moves when coming off the edge, and tends to rely on his burst. Doesn't always play with a great motor as he seems to go hot and cold at times.
Carter is a physical and athletic specimen that is a hard-nose defender that will make some big hits on defense. But he's not particularly cerebral. He's the type of player that at the next level that could be a weakness, but at the same time with his physical skills, in the right scheme it coudl also not be a huge negative. Played predominantly SAM linebacker during his years at Carolina and was a playmaker. Tore his ACL at the end of November, which will likely threaten how much he can do as a rookie. Still managed 57 tackles, 3.5 for loss, 2.5 sack, 1 pick, 2 breakups in 11 games. in his two previous seasons as a full-time starter, he combined for 133 tackles, 18.5 for loss, 7 sacks, 2 picks, 4 breakups, and had 2 touchdowns on interception returns. He also blocked 7 kicks during, his career, including 6 punts. As a sophomore, he had 3 blocked punts in a single quarter. He was predominantly a dual threat QB in high school.
Carter flashes the size, speed, and athleticism that should make him one of the top outside linebackers in a given draft class. But while he is excellent from the neck down, from the neck up he's just so-so. His knee injury will definitely affect how much he can contribute as a rookie, as probably the best hope for him is to begin the year on the PUP and then maybe contribute over the last month or so of the year. He is a guy that is good enough to play in multiple schemes, but probably fits best as a SAM linebacker in a 4-3, his predominant position while at North Carolina. He has the sort of size, strength, and burst to play outside in a 3-4, but he's fairly raw as a pass rusher, so it would be hard to count on him there. The player I would compare him to is Aaron Curry, who hasn't had a lot of success in Seattle, after I considered him the best overall prospect in the 2009 draft. He's not as good as Curry was at Wake Forest, and there is some potential that he too could be an underachiever at the next level. But when you look at his physical tools and upside, you sort of throw all that out the window and are willing to roll the dice. Unfortunately 4-3 outside linebackers drafted in the first round haven't had a ton of early NFL success, with Brian Cushing probably the lone exception. Carter could be like that if and when he gets healthy and hits the field, or his subpar instincts and motor could make him just an above average starter. He's too talented not to be at least a decent starter, but he's a sort of boom/bust prospect that could be a mid-level starter or be one of the top starters in the league.
Carter could be very good in Atlanta playing on the strongside. He's big, physical, and fast and would mesh well with the physical, and hard-hitting styles of Lofton and Weatherspoon. He's not polished enough in coverage to supplant Lofton in the nickel, but with time and development, he should be good enough to go up against tight ends and be decent. But truthfully, he's probably not going to be signficantly better than Nicholas has been in that role. He'll make some plays occasionally, but he'll make his fair share of mistakes. His value and ability to be an upgrade over Nicholas on the outside is mainly because of his range and athleticism to make more plays vs. the run. I don't think Atlanta's scheme is designed for him to be a premier player, but I do think he can be a good player that can certainly make his presence known from time to time with his hitting presence. Since he's coming off an injury, he's not really going to do much as a rookie. So the Falcons would need to bring back Peterson, Nicholas, or decide to start Wire at that position until he's ready to go in 2012.
If Carter was completely healthy, I would say he has Top 15 potential. I don't know if I'd draft him that high, but he certainly has that sort of talent level and upside. But since he has a bum knee, he makes good value in the second round. And if he falls into the third round, he's a potential steal.
1-poor, 2-weak, 3-above average, 4-very good, 5-elite
Point of Attack: 3.0
Pass Rush: 3.0
Scouting reports of the linebackers in the 2011 Draft.
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