The Detroit Lions are still doing their homework on Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter, but one ESPN analyst said the Lions would be the best fit for the polarizing prospect among the teams near the top of the 2023 NFL draft.
“We talked about Jalen Carter earlier, where does he fit,” ESPN’s Matt Miller said in a conference call Friday. “I think (Detroit) is the best fit for Jalen Carter, outside of Philly. This is a great fit because you have Dan Campbell. … He’s going to make sure that you’re working.”
Carter is widely considered one of the top players in the draft regardless of position, but his stock has plummeted in recent months because of character concerns.
The Las Vegas Raiders (No. 7) and Atlanta Falcons (No. 8) are reportedly among teams that will not consider Carter in the top 10. The Lions (No. 6) are hosting Carter on a fact-finding pre-draft visit in April.
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Carter pleaded no contest to misdemeanor counts of reckless driving and racing in connection with a Jan. 15 accident that killed one of his teammates and a Georgia football staffer, and Miller said the off field concerns with Carter include questions about his locker room demeanor and practice habits.
“Talking to scouts about Jalen Carter, what everyone has said is that the locker room, it needs to be structured but you need leaders in there that he will kind of get in line with,” Miller said. “Talking to people at Georgia, one thing I heard consistently was, Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean were those players for him. They led that locker room and everyone followed, everyone got in lockstep.
“Now in a vacuum of those leaders being gone, there wasn’t anyone to step up and make sure that Jalen Carter showed up to practice on time, practiced hard. Our colleague, Todd McShay, mentioned it before the news came out about the accident, but there were concerns about football character with Jalen Carter. So I think the risk is big.”
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Carter had six sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss the past two seasons, while helping Georgia win back-to-back national championships. Davis and Dean, both backups with the Eagles last season, were leaders on Georgia’s 2021 title team.
The Lions have a strong locker room, but a young defensive line room with three other potential starters on rookie contracts (Aidan Hutchinson, Alim McNeill and Josh Paschal).
Campbell said at the NFL‘s annual meeting this week it is “possible” for a strong locker room to absorb and elevate young players with character risks.
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“I do think that’s possible,” he said. “But without the core, you can’t do it. You can’t take a swing at one of those. But yeah, if you feel like your foundation is set, you can get away with one, maybe two. Maybe.”
Asked specifically about Carter, Campbell said the Lions, as part of their pre-draft homework on the prospect, recently talked to an ex-Georgia teammate of Carter’s who “told us some things we didn’t know, that nobody probably would’ve known. It was like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ It was pretty good.”
Asked if the ex-teammate had good or bad things to say about Carter, Campbell said, “It’s interesting.”
Along with Campbell, Miller said Carter would benefit from joining a Lions team that has “a great leader” in defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, a strong coaching staff littered with ex-NFL players, and a defensive line full of players “who’ve just worked their tails off to get where they are.”
“If we want to talk about, hey, where is that soft landing spot for Jalen Carter that’s realistic where he can be best set up for success, I think this is the early realistic spot for me,” Miller said.