Throughout the fall at Steelers Depot, we will be highlighting several possible draft prospects the Pittsburgh Steelers may have interest in for the 2023 NFL Draft and their performance during the college football season.
The Bulldogs knocked off the top-ranked Volunteers in Athens Saturday afternoon in what turned into an ugly slugfest resembling a backstreet ball. The Dawgs got up quickly and utilized the elements to their advantage in the second half as the rain started to pour down, limiting the dynamic passing attack of Tennessee as the defense got after QB Hendon Hooker, holding him and the Volunteers to their worst offensive performance of the season in the convincing 27-13 win.
While several Bulldogs stood out with their individual performances Saturday afternoon, DL #88 Jalen Carter possibly made the biggest statement of all the Dawgs involved in this one. Carter finished the game with four total tackles, two TFLs, a sack, and two forced fumbles. Carter overwhelmed the offensive line of Tennessee, showcasing his impressive play strength combined with his explosiveness to defeat blocks and wreak havoc in the backfield. He plays with incredible strength in his punch paired with a strong lower half to hold down the LOS like on these couple of clips where he stands up the blocker, then sheds the block to make a play on the ball.
Carter made an impact early in the game which set the tone for the Bulldogs the rest of the way. Tennessee is backed up near their one end zone and Carter forklifts the RG backward on the snap, ripping off the block and blows up QB Hendon Hooker in the end zone, knocking the ball out as he drops Hooker to the floor. However, the OL recovering the ball and is ruled out of the end zone, keeping the Bulldogs from getting a safety on the play.
Later in the second half, Carter forces another fumble on a draw play up the middle where the running back attempts to bounce the run outside once Carter swims over the RG. Carter clears the block, locates the runner, and punches the ball out from behind. This time, a fellow Bulldog jumps on the loose ball, securing the takeaway for the Georgia defense.
Even when Carter isn’t the one making the play, he still is able to make an impact. On this rep, watch Carter quickly clear the block attempt after the snap, swimming over the RG’s outside shoulder as he gets into the backfield. The quick penetration by Carter along with the blitzer coming free up the middle force Hooker to throw the ball hot which the DB knocks away for the incompletion.
With Carter lining up on the opposite end of the LOS, opposing offensive lines must game plan with how they plan to keep him from disrupting the play. Often times, Carter will see a double team like on this rep where the RG and RT commit to blocking him. Still, Carter nearly gets to Hooker in the pocket as RT #58 Darnell Wright tackles him to the ground as Hooker lets go of the pass, completing it to #4 Cedric Tilman.
Still, there are some facets of Carter’s game that he can improve upon to take his impact as a pass rusher to the next level. While he has shown some ability to get off blocks, he often wins with brute strength and power rather than technique and hand usage. Watch this rep where he walks Wright into the backfield but can’t shed the block before Hooker gets rid of the ball. Wright stands 6’6, 335lb, which shows just how strong Carter is, but developing a go-to pass rush move with an effective counter would turn him into a force as an interior pass rusher.
We saw Carter move up-and-down the LOS Saturday against Tennessee, playing head-up on the center, but would move to inside shade of the OT as well. Still, while this versatility is good to see, his overall execution outside isn’t great given his lack of bend and tendency to play full speed. For example, watch on this rep where Carter attempts to around the edge of the tackle, but Darnell Wright catches him off-balance and slaps him to the side, taking him out of the play. This is a picky critique of Carter who is best suited inside, but given his lofty draft billing, you would like to see a player would is inside/outside capable along the DL.
Overall, it was a coming out party for Jalen Carter who enjoyed his best game of the season and likely as a collegiate athlete. He showcased his rare strength and power at the point of attack to man-handle opposing offensive linemen, being able to stand them up at the line or walk them back into the backfield. He also displaying impressive burst and explosiveness to close on the football and finishing the play, making QB Hendon Hooker look like a rag doll when he made hit the QB for the forced fumble.
Carter needs to work on his hand usage and playing more under control to not overrun plays he should get on, but the talent and pedigree are certainly there for him to be a disrupting force along the defensive line for years to come in the league. Carter is a true junior, standing 6’3, 300lb and his size, incredible strength, and play style remind me a bit of current free agent DL Ndamukong Suh. Granted, Suh is slightly bigger than Carter (6’4, 314lb) and was a far more productive pass rusher coming out, but both utilize that rare strength to defeat OL routinely as a force of nature that is tough to keep at bey.
Carter could be seen as a smaller, poor man’s version of Suh in a sense, which shouldn’t be a slight on Carter’s game given how impactful Suh has been for a decade-plus in the NFL. Carter is viewed as a blue-chip prospect in this draft class, and after the statement game he had on Saturday, he will have a difficult time getting out of the top five overall picks in the 2023 NFL Draft.
What are your thoughts on Jalen Carter’s performance against Tennessee? Do you think he showcased the skill set of a foundational piece on the defensive line? Do you think he should be in-play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the early stages of the draft? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!