ATHENS — Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter is not expected to drop in April’s NFL draft. If he does, it won’t be significantly.
That’s according to NFL draft expert Mel Kiper, who spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an exclusive interview Wednesday afternoon.
Kiper believes the Bulldogs’ All-American won’t last past the 10th pick of the first round and could go as early as sixth. Regardless of when Carter is drafted, Kiper believes Carter is the best college football player available in the 2023 draft.
“The film is going to tell you he’s the top player in this draft,” said Kiper, who has been ESPN’s lead draft analyst since 1984. “The tape’s going to tell you he’s the best player from a football standpoint. I think he’s the best player in this draft from a pure football standpoint.”
Carter recently was implicated by police in a double-fatality crash that took the lives of two members of the Georgia football family and had what NFL talent evaluators described as a poor workout during UGA’s Pro Day.
Carter was sentenced last week on charges of racing and reckless driving in a no-contest plea negotiated with Athens-Clarke County prosecutors. A judge sentenced Carter to 12 months of probation, fined him $1,013 and ordered him to perform 50 hours of community service.
Carter’s sentencing came two weeks after police revealed that he allegedly was racing Georgia recruiting analyst Chandler LeCroy at 2:45 a.m. on Jan. 15 as she drove herself, two football players and another full-time athletics employee to a Waffle House after a day of celebration in Athens following UGA football’s second consecutive national championship.
The crash investigation revealed LeCroy was driving a rented athletic association vehicle 104.2 mph before leaving Barnett Shoals Road, severing two utility poles, striking several trees and finally an apartment building. Georgia football player Devin Willock and LeCroy died in the crash. Offensive lineman Warren McClendon walked away from the crash, and recruiting analyst Tory Bowles was treated for serious injuries from which she is now recovering.
Carter, driving in the inside lane, was close enough to LeCroy’s vehicle that the power lines that fell damaged the roof of Carter’s Jeep Cherokee Trackhawk, according to police.
On March 15 at UGA’s Pro Day, Carter was unable to complete the drills he was running under the supervision of NFL coaches due to conditioning problems and cramps. He had gained 9 pounds since his NFL scouting combine appearance two weeks earlier, according to NFL reports.
Still, Kiper said, “he’s not going to drop.”
“Are you going to force a pick on a guy that’s just OK to pass on the best player in the draft,” Kiper asked rhetorically. “That’s Jalen Carter. I get the off-the-field concern – the tragedy was horrible, just awful; two families lost young kids – but were there any issues prior to that? When people say ‘character concerns,’ what is that? Teams will get into that. They’ll talk to Jalen Carter and find out what’s going on and do their research and due diligence.
“But I can just tell you on pure football ability, he’s the best player in the draft, and I can only tell you what I’m hearing from teams, and that’s he’ll still go in the top group of players, and that’s what I go by.”
Kiper said NFL teams are more willing to take on risks such as Carter for the reward their talent could provide. He pointed to past situations involving Miami defensive tackle Warren Sapp and Mississippi offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil.
Sapp dropped out of the top 10 due to a marijuana arrest and other character concerns. He ended up playing in seven Pro Bowls over 13 seasons. Tunsil tumbled on draft boards due to his involvement in an NCAA investigation and other issues. Tunsil just signed a huge contract extension with the Texans.
Carter is one of several Bulldogs players expected to hear their name called in the NFL draft, several of whom are expected to join Carter as first-round selections. That’s despite losing an NFL-record 15 overall selections and five defensive first-round selections in the 2022 draft.
Offensive tackle Broderick Jones, tight end Darnell Washington, outside linebacker Nolan Smith and cornerback Kelee Ringo all are receiving first-round projections from draft analysts, including Kiper.
Kiper credits Kirby Smart, Georgia’s eighth-year coach, for turning the Bulldogs into one of the most reliable producers of pro football talent.
“They’re stacking players at positions,” Kiper said. “To lose all those players on defense to the NFL the previous year and then you lose Nolan Smith during the season and then still winning the national title, that’s amazing. … It speaks to Kirby and that coaching staff and the job they do developing players and coaching them and motivating them.”
The 6-foot-3, 310-pound Carter is a junior and was a five-star prospect when he signed with Georgia out of Apopka, Florida. Despite missing all or parts of six games due to knee and ankle injuries last season, Carter finished with 32 tackles, three sacks, 14 quarterback hurries, three tackles for loss and was a consensus All-American selection.