Pre-draft narratives surrounding Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter have formed and strengthened in recent weeks.
Rumblings of character concerns were magnified when arrest warrants were issued for Carter’s involvement in an auto accident that resulted in the deaths of a former teammate and Georgia staffer. He’s since pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charges of racing and reckless driving, drawing a penalty of 12 months probation, 80 hours of community service and a $1,000 fine.
Carter’s football character is also under the gun after he showed up overweight to his pro day, declined to take part in the standard athletic testing he also skipped at the combine, and labored through positional drills.
But the NFL is a talent business, and no one is denying Carter doesn’t have talent in spades. In fact, you’ll find plenty willing to argue he’s the best player in his draft class, including ESPN analyst Mel Kiper.
And while Kiper isn’t turning a blind eye to the off-field concerns with Carter, the analyst struggled to envision a scenario where the dominant defender drops out of the top-10, similar to the way future Hall of Famer Warren Sapp did 28 years earlier.
In his latest mock draft, Kiper has the Lions rolling the dice on Carter at No. 6, filling a big roster need with the massive talent.
“Carter’s talent is undeniable, and I could see a team such as the Lions taking him here, filling a position of need,” Kiper wrote. “Detroit, which also owns the No. 18 overall selection, drafted Aidan Hutchinson at No. 2 overall last year and got 9.5 sacks out of him. Carter would be a nice complement to Hutchinson’s skill set.”
In a conference call Wednesday, Kiper said Detroit’s free-agency focus on the team’s secondary moved him off his previous thought process at No. 6, where he was prepared to give the Lions one of the top cornerbacks, either Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez or Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon.
Kiper said every team is going to have to perform their due diligence on Carter, and if the Lions opted to pass on him, he’s not sure which direction the team would go at the top of the draft.
“If you say it’s not going to be Carter and it’s going to be somebody else, is there another defensive lineman to take at that point?” Kiper asked. “It’s too early for a linebacker. That could be wide open, at that point.”
In terms of the next wave of defensive tackles, Kiper listed three others he expects to be in the mix to be selected in the first round, where Detroit holds a second selection.
“The guy who is red hot right now — and I have him going in the later first, but I almost put him at 10 to Philadelphia — is Adetomiwa Adebawore from Northwestern. He had production at Northwestern. He was forcing fumbles, he had a lot of quarterback pressures, he’s over 280 (pounds), he ran 4.49, he’s got long arms, he’s a great kid, recruited by Army, Air Force, ends up at Northwestern. He’d be next.
“Then Calijah Kancey from Pitt is a 3-technique,” Kiper continued. “Super quick, is about 6-1, 280, ran really well at the combine. Actually, ran better than Aaron Donald. Doesn’t have the arm length of Donald, though.”
The ESPN draft guru also noted Clemson’s Bryan Bresee is in the mix at the back end of the first round.
But having the Lions grab Carter in his projection, and not needing to double-dip on the position, Kiper has the Lions upgrading on the other side of the ball at pick No. 18, taking Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer.
“They traded away T.J. Hockenson last fall and used a committee approach to the tight end position, with Brock Wright, James Mitchell and Shane Zylstra each catching at least 11 passes,” Kiper wrote. “All three are under contract for 2023, but shouldn’t Detroit try to upgrade?
“Mayer is the most complete tight end in this class,” Kiper continued. “He’s physical as a run-blocker, and he can run seam routes and get open for quarterback Jared Goff. He caught 67 passes for 809 yards and nine touchdowns last season and had 180 catches in his college career. He could be the lead guy in Detroit.”
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