NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2022. This is the fourth entry in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout July.
Last season, Georgia won its first national championship in 41 years, thanks in large part to an extraordinarily talented defense that led the nation in numerous metrics, including scoring D (10.2 ppg), yards per play allowed (4.16) and red zone efficiency (28.1 percent). The Bulldogs set an NFL draft record with a whopping five defenders selected in April's first round: DE Travon Walker (No. 1 overall), DT Jordan Davis (No. 13), LB Quay Walker (No. 22), DT Devonte Wyatt (No. 28), S Lewis Cine (No. 32). And yet, there's talk in scouting circles that the best NFL prospect of all might remain in Athens to this day.
Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter heads into his junior campaign as one of the most hyped talents in college football. A celebrated recruit out of Apopka, Florida, Carter flashed enticing potential as a true freshman and then served as a key cog in the Dawgs' national title run this past season. Now, with three of his D-linemates taken in the first 28 picks of the 2022 NFL draft, Carter is officially The Guy on UGA's defensive front. Offering an enticing mix of size, athleticism and power, Carter has the full attention of NFL scouts seeking disruption on the defensive interior. But he'll also enter every game this fall as the primary focus of opposing game plans.
So, is the next big thing on Kirby Smart's defense ready to live up to a lofty billing? After watching four of Carter's game tapes from the 2021 season, here is my initial scouting report on the Georgia defensive lineman ...
Height, weight: 6-foot-3, 310 pounds (school measurements).
2021 statistics (15 games played): 37 tackles (17 solo), 8.5 for loss (3 sacks), 33 QB pressures, 2 blocked kicks.
Game tape watched: at Auburn (Oct. 9, 2021), vs. Missouri (Nov. 6, 2021), at Tennessee (Nov. 13, 2021), vs. Michigan (College Football Playoff semifinal; Dec. 31, 2021).
What I liked: Carter is incredibly twitched up, and he spends the majority of his time on the other side of the line of scrimmage, against the pass and run.
As a pass rusher, he explodes off the ball and has the lower-body power to work through the edges of blockers. He has quick hands and a variety of moves, most typically winning with a club/rip, an arm-over or a counter. He is adept at getting blockers to lean one way before hip-tossing them to create a direct path to the passer.
Against the run, Carter is extremely disruptive and has phenomenal lateral range. He has burst when changing directions and his effort is excellent when it comes to chasing down plays. His lateral quickness is exceptional. He can drop his weight and easily anchor single blocks at the point of attack. He generates some "wow" moments in every game with his mix of athleticism and explosiveness.
Where he needs to improve: I love the disruptive presence Carter brings to the Georgia defense, but he needs to up his actual production this fall. He finished last season with just 17 solo tackles and three sacks. Now, those underwhelming counting stats are understandable when you consider the depth of talent on the Bulldogs' defense last season. Kirby Smart's D divvies up snaps all game, with starters usually resting in the fourth quarter of blowouts.
Carter's pad level is still somewhat of a work in progress. There are times where he pops right up and gets washed by down blocks. That said, I thought he improved in this department as last season went along.
Biggest takeaway: It's rare to find an interior defensive lineman with this combination of explosiveness and looseness. Usually, twitched-up/explosive guys are stiff-hipped and stiff-ankled. Carter's neither. He can really sink his hips and drop his weight easily to hold the point of attack. He can also bend and wrap around blocks to get to the football. That makes him an absolute nightmare to contain. He's still developing an overall game plan, but the true junior has all of the tools to be an elite NFL player.
He reminds me of: Quinnen Williams. These two have a similar frame/build and they both possess an explosive first step. I would give Williams a slight edge in the power department, but I believe Carter is more nimble and a smoother athlete. Like Williams during his time at Alabama, Carter finds a way to stand out on a college defense overflowing with NFL talent. Williams, who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 draft, is an ascending force for the New York Jets, with 13 sacks and 73 pressures (by Pro Football Focus' count) over the past two seasons. I believe Carter has the same upside.
I can't wait to watch him play: vs. Oregon on Sept. 3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. I can't remember a college season with this many intriguing early-season, non-conference matchups. The Ducks have an outstanding and physical offensive line, constructed under former head coach Mario Cristobal. Oregon's new head man, Dan Lanning, spent the past three seasons as Georgia's defensive coordinator, so he's obviously quite familiar with the Dawgs' D and will know how to best attack the unit (... if there is a viable way to do so). I mentioned earlier that I'd like to see Carter rack up bigger numbers this fall. This will be his first opportunity to get after it, with the game set for the national stage on ABC.