Schultz: Jalen Carter has ballooned to 323. He must address concerns before NFL Draft

ATHENS, Ga. — There are several talent evaluators around 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 depends in large part on whether: 1) He has a significant physical and mental turnaround from where he seemingly sits now, or 2) a team locks onto his talent and wagers he’ll be the player he can be.

Georgia held its Pro Day on Wednesday for top draft-eligible prospects. It’s one in an important series of events for players who have an effective four-month interview to show the best versions of themselves.

But the best version of Jalen Carter was not on display. NFL personnel officials, coaches and media members in attendance saw an overweight Carter huffing and puffing through the few drills that were set up for defensive linemen in Georgia’s indoor practice 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 other participating Bulldogs players did.

Carter weighed 323 pounds, according to a league source who was granted anonymity so that he could speak freely. That’s 13 pounds heavier than he was listed at during Georgia’s season. It’s also nine pounds heavier than the 314 he weighed at the scouting combine two weeks ago. It was clearly not nine pounds of added muscle. He looked flabby. He looked overly winded after drills. He looked like a risk for any team that might decide to hand him a $20 million-plus signing bonus.

Jalen Carter was overweight and winded during drills at Georgia’s pro day on Wednesday. (John Bazemore / Associated Press)

Some NFL officials believe Carter’s ideal playing weight is under 310 pounds to best take advantage of his pass-rush skills and athleticism. Enormously talented players can’t reach their athletic projections if they let their bodies become temples of doom. That Wednesday followed Carter’s decision to not work out at the combine makes it even worse, though he did interview with individual teams there.

“Anybody who takes him is going to have to know what they’re getting into,” said the league source. “Everybody is going to have to do their due diligence and then make a decision.”


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At his peak self, 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 up the No. 1 sign with his other hand. He was first-team All-American, all-SEC and All-Everything Every NFL Team Needs and Wants.

But there are significant questions now.

We can’t possibly know where this is going. Putting aside the two misdemeanors that Carter has been charged with — racing and reckless driving, stemming from the accident that killed Georgia teammate Devin Willock and recruiting aide Chandler LeCroy — the main questions about Carter that have been out there among pro scouts since during the season related to his consistency and work ethic.

The counter to that, as Georgia coach Kirby Smart reaffirmed Wednesday, was that the defensive tackle battled injuries during the season and, in fact, should be praised for being the opposite of lazy.

“I’m getting a lot of questions about Jalen, which probably was inevitable, anyway,” Smart said. “I got a lot of questions about (No. 1 pick) Travon Walker when he came out. But with the (accident) situation, there’s probably more questions and more direct, and I’m just trying to be honest and talk about the experiences we had here. Jalen did not 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 he was hurt. So the competitive character he has shown has been really good.”

Here’s the problem, and it’s also applicable 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. It’s difficult enough to decide who to spend a draft pick on and who to give money to. 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 a team pause.

And Wednesday was not a good look. There already were lingering questions about where Carter might be at psychologically after the accident, and how he had handled himself in the suddenly negative spotlight.

Even Smart acknowledged, “I can only imagine knowing what he’s dealing with internally, as a survivor from a tragic accident, knowing the outcome of that accident. There’s some mental health things there that you have to be able to help with. I can’t speak to what he’s going through. He’s got to answer those questions. But we’re certainly going to try to support him as much as we can.”

Stetson Bennett, who has his own set of questions to overcome, defended Carter. He called him “special” and “a rock.”

“We know what comes with the territory of where we are now, and things that are going to be out, and situations we put ourselves in, and how to be responsible,” Bennett said. “Being a grown man’s our job. So I think he understands it. … Knows he’s the best one on the field but still does things the right way. He’s in the right gaps so the backers can fit. Doesn’t mind defending the run. Obviously can get after the quarterback. He’s sudden, he’s strong in his suddenness. Just the right footwork. If you look at him, he’s always in a power position. That’s why he blows people off the line.”

All accurate — when Carter is at his best. But that wasn’t the Carter we saw Wednesday. He has a month before the draft to get into shape and ease concerns. He has a month to realize he’s in the midst of a job interview and he just walked in with a T-shirt, flip-flops, and looking like he had just rolled out of bed.

(Photo: Todd Kirkland / Getty Images)

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