This series will feature the top NFL Draft prospects with insight from the beat reporters that covered them in college. This article is just a preview of the full interview which can be heard on the Deep Slant podcast.
Name: Jalen Carter
Position: Defensive tackle
Height/Weight: 6-3, 314
Hometown: Apopka, Florida
Sidhu: Let's talk about some of these Georgia prospects, because I think one of the most memorable parts, maybe not in a good way necessarily, of the NFL Combine, was standing around waiting to hear Jalen Carter speak. The defensive linemen spoke first and about 15 minutes before he was scheduled to speak at the podium, we saw the news break on Twitter that Carter had been charged with reckless driving and racing in connection with the crash that happened that killed a teammate. So everybody was waiting for Jalen Carter to speak and, of course, he didn't speak because all this news was going down. What can you tell us about where things stand right now with Carter and the investigation and how it affects this entire process for him?
Shelton: Very unfortunate timing for him as a prospect there. Beginning of the week, like you said, waiting for to hear him speak. He didn't, the news broke then and then him and his team decided to issue a statement. The way it was written, it sounded like from his perspective, basically saying that he feels good about being exonerated in the future of the charges. Now, how does this affect him going forward? I think there's a court date in April. From what we know, he will be participating in Georgia's Pro Day March 15th. I'm sure every NFL team is going to have a representative there.
Sidhu: Before the charges were filed, many thought that Jalen Carter was a top-three prospect. A lot of people had him as even the No. 1 prospect overall in the NFL Draft. So as an interior defensive lineman, what does he bring to an NFL team that could make him a potential Day One starter?
Shelton: I think just the way he is able to get off with his first step. He is used to taking double teams on the inside in the SEC, taking double teams on a regular basis and splitting those. His leverage is really what sets him apart, I think, and you can tell that from his tape. You know, another part of how he plays as a player is reminds me of Stetson Bennett, the Georgia quarterback, in how he plays up in certain moments. Jalen Carter has his best games at the end of the season in the postseason, specifically, he had a sack, he had 12 QB hurries in the postseason and in the playoffs there. So I think his ability with that leverage, the first step and being able to taking on double teams and, as a pass rusher on the inside, I think that's really what adds so much value. We've seen pass rushers being taken so early over the draft's history. I think for that reason, especially on the inside, it reminds me a little bit of Aaron Donald, more of an undersized guy, comes in at 6-3, 314. I think that's good for his build. I think he can put on some mass there as well as he gets into the league. But I think just that leverage and ability to penetrate double teams is really what sets him apart and the pressure up the middle really gets in QBs faces, makes them have to exit the pocket and that's where you get sacks.
Sidhu: He's played in the middle of some phenomenal Georgia players, first-round picks in Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt in 2021. What makes him stand out amongst a Georgia defense that's just so loaded and so talented overall?
Shelton: Yeah, it's crazy. Thinking back to last year, Travon Walker, and like you said, Devonte Wyatt, Jordan Davis and SEC coaches were saying Jalen Carter was the game breaker even within that group and he was just a sophomore at the time. We saw him come in as a freshman and get playing time right away, a guy who Georgia fans didn't know about. He came in right away and played really well in the SEC and we're like, this guy is going to be a star. And of course, this year, All-American and he missed two games. He battled through injuries, had an ankle injury, the opening game versus Oregon, still played on it off of adrenaline because he wasn't able to play much in practice. Missed two games total and you add the knee injury towards the end of the year, his MCL sprain. I think the ability for him to play through injury shows really well to NFL teams. You have to do that on a weekly basis, unfortunately. I think he showed that this year and he was still able to contribute even with these injuries when he came in and had to work back. His conditioning wasn't a problem at the time either. So I think that's a good showing for him.
Sidhu: Before the arrest charges, Carter was known for some outstanding stories off the field. Can you tell us a little bit about what he's like off the field and what you know about him from your time covering him?
Shelton: I think this arose from Todd McShay's comments on ESPN when they were talking about those top few picks, who is going to be taken. He was obviously ranked at the top, going to be one of the names first called. But the debate was character concerns from Todd McShay's viewpoint. Now, this was kind of a surprise to us because I had never heard anything bad from my time covering him. I've covered him since he was a freshman. Immediately after that came out, we published a story on those comments and then players responded. It was at least three players responding right away on social media platforms that that was incorrect. The character concerns weren't an issue because they view him as a good teammate. A guy who always brings a smile, brings a hard work ethic. So it was a bit of a surprise.
More recently, I think a week before the Combine, Bruce Feldman of The Athletic published a story and it was able to talk to a Georgia walk-on defensive lineman. And, if your fans know about walk-ons, they don't get to eat like scholarship players, they don't eat for free. And Jalen Carter, when he found this out, actually offered to pay this Georgia walk-on defensive lineman his meals throughout the season and he didn't even tell the kid that he was going to. He just told the trainer, the trainer told the kid. So I think that shows a really good character. It was bad timing about this coming out and I'm not sure how this plays into his draft stock, but what from what we know, his character is good. I'm just not sure how NFL teams will view it.
Sidhu: What about for your time covering him with Jalen Carter? Any particular game or performance that really stands out in your mind?
Shelton: Definitely the SEC championship, he was incredible that game versus LSU. I think one picture that stands out in my mind is him holding up Jayden Daniels at the end of a sack with one arm up. And that was just incredible picture in a moment. Him dominating was not a surprise for teams, they knew Jalen Carter was going to be there. They knew he was going to be a problem and they had to deal with him and he was still able to show, even though you're going to try to double team me and plan for me, I'm still going to get sacks and I'm going to wreck the game on the inside and force you to run outside of me.
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