Mandatory Credit: Photo by Darron Cummings/AP/Shutterstock (13789803am) Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter watches as players warm up on the field before the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis NFL Combine Football, Indianapolis, United States – 02 Mar 2023
John McClain: Jalen Carter’s legal issues could impact Texans’ draft plan
INDIANAPOLIS – Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter came to the scouting combine prepared to show the Bears he’s worthy of being the first overall pick in next month’s draft, but an arrest warrant issued Wednesday could cause his stock to plummet – a predicament that could impact the Texans.
Carter and Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr., who won the Rotary Lombardi Award in Houston as the nation’s best lineman, came to Indianapolis as the highest-rated prospects who are expected to be among the top-four picks on April 27, the first day of the draft. Carter left the combine to return to Athens, Ga., where he was booked and released late Wednesday night after posting a $4,000 bond.
Carter returned to Indianapolis on Thursday to get weighed and measured and meet with teams to do damage control. Teams can meet with 45 players for 15 minutes each. Carter will try to explain to them his role, if any, in the Jan. 15 automobile crash that killed Bulldogs’ offensive lineman Devin Willock and athletic department staffer Chandler LeCroy and injured two others. Carter was charged with reckless driving and racing – both misdemeanors. Carter released a statement saying he expects to be fully exonerated.
As for how Carter’s legal situation could have implications for the Texans, Chicago, Houston, Arizona and Indianapolis have the first four picks in the draft. The Bears could try to get the Texans and Colts – AFC South rivals desperate for quarterbacks – into a bidding war to move up to the top spot for multiple draft choices.
If the Bears swap spots with the Texans, they’re still guaranteed of getting Anderson if they decide Carter is too hot to handle. But if they trade with the Colts, they’ll probably lose a chance to get Anderson, who’s expected to be taken by the Cardinals. If Carter drops out of the top four because of his legal issues, Chicago could be wise to keep the first pick and draft Anderson, leaving the Texans with their pick of the best quarterback prospects – Alabama’s Bryce Young or Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud.
Carter’s legal problem may not be settled by the draft. Even before the combine, there were questions about his character. Teams will have their investigators checking out his situation. He should still get drafted high. How high depends on a team not being as concerned with character issues as others are.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Wednesday that Carter gave conflicting answers to questions about the accident that happened at 2:30 a.m. after the team celebrated its national championship victory over TCU. At first, Carter claimed he wasn’t close to the accident, but then he said he was. He left the crash scene and didn’t return until 90 minutes later. Police asked if he had been racing the university-issued SUV driven by LeCroy. Carter claimed he wasn’t.
The newspaper reported police obtained videos along the route. Police determined that both SUVs were racing, including speeding past other automobiles, driving in opposite lanes, switching lanes and driving in center lanes. In other words, racing at high speeds could have contributed to the crash. Another offensive lineman, Warren McClendon, was riding in the backseat and suffered minor injuries. He’s scheduled for an interview session with the media early Saturday morning.
The Bears, Texans and Cardinals could use a defensive lineman like Carter or Anderson. The Texans have hinted they might take a prospect other than a quarterback, but most expect them to select a quarterback because it’s the most glaring need on the team.
New coach DeMeco Ryans was asked about Carter on Wednesday.
“I have not spent time with him,” he said. “Don’t know much about the situation. What I would say about it is lives were lost. You just think about those families who lost a loved one, and you put that at the forefront. That’s the most important thing.”
Before the warrant was issued for Carter’s arrest, Bears’ coach Matt Eberflus was asked about Carter and Anderson and their interest in an interior lineman compared to an edge rusher.
“They’re different pieces, right?” he said. “You’ve got a bigger guy inside that’s a little closer to the quarterback. And then the guy on the edge is a little more athletic, a little more range, a little more length. Both are good. I wouldn’t weigh one or the other right now. We’re just keeping all options open.”
The Panthers have the ninth pick. They need a quarterback, but if Carter dropped that far, general manager Scott Fitterer and new coach Frank Reich might be tempted to take him.
“I don’t want to talk about his draft stock,” Fitterer said. “We did meet with Jalen Monday night. (He) did a nice job with us. No issues there. I did not know about the situation that came out (Wednesday) morning. There would be a lot of things to look into. I just don’t want to jump to any conclusions. We’ll let it all play out and make a decision. Luckily, the draft’s not until April.”
The mood at the combine changed drastically Wednesday when the warrant for Carter’s arrest became public, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published the results of its investigation into Carter’s role in the accident. While Carter left town to tackle his legal issues, Anderson was captivating just about everyone who wanted to listen to him.
Anderson said he’d met with the Bears and Texans and, of course, would love to be the first player drafted.
“It would mean a lot, all my hard work paying off,” Anderson said about being the first player selected. “To have that spot is big time, and I’m really appreciative if I have that opportunity.”
Anderson is represented by Houston agent Nicole Lynn, who works for Klutch Sports Group. Lynn made sure to prepare Anderson for everything he’ll face at the combine, including the Bears. Every player – and every agent – wants to be the first overall pick.
“Nicole does a fantastic job,” Anderson said. “The team I have is doing a really good job prepping (me). They do a really good job making sure we have all the information we need. We went in there ((Bears) and watched a couple of tapes. (They) really just got to know me, and I got to know them. The culture’s great there, and I can tell they’re on to something special.”
As for meeting with the Texans, Anderson said, “We went in there and watched tape. I am really excited about the Texans as well.”
In college, Anderson was listed at 6-4, 243 and compared to Von Miller. He’s undersized for a 4-3 end, but he showed a knack for playing the run and being difficult to block. His pass-rush skills set him apart.
“I feel like football is all about embracing a change, so no matter what type of defense I get in, I’m going to adapt to it,” he said. “Embrace the challenges there and learn the lessons that go with it, and that’s what I’m really excited about. Whatever defense I get in, learning how to operate in it and having fun doing it.”
Anderson was asked about the toughest player he played against, and University of Texas fans won’t be surprised at his answer.
“Bijan Robinson, the running back from Texas,” he said. “He’s a big back. We had to gang-tackle him, get all the hats to the ball. He was going to break a few tackles (so) we had to tackle him right away. He was probably the toughest person I played against in college.”
Playing for Nick Saban helped prepare Anderson for the NFL and his chance to become a high pick, possibly first overall.
“Being at Alabama made me very versatile,” he said. “Dropping in coverage. Helping me work, pass rush moves and (against) the run. When I dissect myself, I see myself as a versatile player who can do just about anything (and) that’s thanks to coach Saban. He trusted me a lot. He saw a lot in me. The potential. It helped mold the player I am today.
“He believed in me and gave me a lot of confidence. You have one of the world’s greatest coaches telling me, ‘I trust you, I believe you can do it,’ and that made me do it 10 times harder.”
All that hard work has paid off because it’s put Anderson in position to become a top-four draft choice who could be taken first overall by the Bears. Where he goes depends a lot on how teams feel about Carter.
As for the Texans, Anderson sure would look good flying off the edge and pursuing the quarterback in Ryans’ 4-3 defense. And it would save his agent a lot of money because Lynn wouldn’t have to jet to other cities to see her client play.
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).