With the 162nd pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select Chris Carter, a 6’1″, 248 lb. outside linebacker from Fresno State.
This is an excellent pick by the Steelers. Like LaMarr Woodley and many other past Steelers outside linbackers, Chris Carter was a defensive end in college. But in the Steelers’ 3-4 defense, he is going to be converted to a rush linebacker.
If it had been based only on his production, Carter would have been drafted much earlier than this. He had a highly productive college career. He had 5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss as a junior, and then surpassed that by accumulating 11 sacks and 16.5 tackles for a loss as a senior. Von Miller, the first linebacker selected in this year’s draft (and the 2nd overall pick) had very similar numbers. He had 10.5 sacks, and 17.5 tackles for a loss. Those are almost identical numbers. To further illustrate the point, Akeem Ayers, the second linebacker drafted in this year’s draft had 4 sacks, and 10 tackles for a loss. Bruce Carter, the third linebacker drafted had 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss.
So since Carter’s statistics were as good or better than the aforementioned linebackers, why did they all go in the 1st or 2nd rounds, while Carter lasted until the 5th round? The answer is simple. Carter is only 6’1″ tall. Most teams view that as being too short for a linebacker in the NFL. Fortunately, the Steelers have a guy named James Harrison who happens to be 6’0″. As far as I can tell, that hasn’t hurt Harrison very much.
I’m not saying that Chris Carter is going to be the next James Harrison. I’m merely saying that he is being penalized too severely for his height.
Carter was really a one trick pony in college. But that trick is a very good trick. He specialized in getting to the quarterback. He reminds me a lot of Jason Worilds when he came out of college. Both are very fast rushers, and their picks make it clear that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau wants to put pressure on the quarterback.
Carter has great explosion off the line. He’s a strong, muscular player, and he tackles well. However, because he played defensive end in college, he’s going to have to learn a lot of new skills. He’s used to playing with a hand on the ground. He’ll have to change that. He also has no experience dropping into coverage. That’s always a difficult adjustment for players who aren’t used to doing it. Both James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley struggled with dropping into coverage initially, but they’ve both become very effective at it.
He did tend to rely too much on his fantastic speed in college, and so he didn’t develop a full array of moves. He’s going to need to develop those if he wants to beat NFL offensive tackles. He’s also going to have to improve his run stopping capabilities.
While Carter’s height clearly hurt him, I believe that the Steelers probably played more attention to what he showed on film. For example, he absolutely abused Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi (a first round pick in this year’s draft) when Fresno State played Wisconsin in 2009. In addition to his very productive college career, he had a great performance at the East-West Shrine Game. He also ran a 1.59 10-yard split at the NFL Scouting Combine. I usually don’t pay much attention to workout performances at the Combine, but in this case, it does indicate that he has the potential to get to the quarterback pretty quickly.
Chris Carter is a relentless player whose motor never stops. He will do whatever is necessary to get to the quarterback. He’s also a great character guy.
Overall, Chris Carter is unlikely to get any playing time this year at linebacker. His contribution (if he makes any) is going to be on special teams. But based on what he does on special teams, he can earn an opportunity to show the Steelers what he can do at linebacker. That worked out pretty well for guys like James Harrison, Keyaron Fox, and Stevenson Sylvester who all worked themselves into the linebacker rotation after first distinguishing themselves on special teams.
Analysis of all 2011 Steelers Draft picks:
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