What a difference two years can make. Sure, it isn’t all that long in the grand scheme of things, but if you’re Detroit Lions’ general manager Brad Holmes, you can get a lot done in that time. When he was hired in January of 2021, Holmes was inheriting a roster that was in need of a total makeover. You’ve heard all of the analogies at this point, but Holmes truly tore things down to the studs—cutting bait with overpriced veterans, and fully leaning into the youth movement.
Now there are young, talented pillars all over the field for the Lions, including along the defensive line. Significant resources have gone towards retooling the defensive front—headlined by the second overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Aidan Hutchinson. Beyond Hutchinson, Holmes has also selected Josh Paschal (second round selection in 2022), Alim McNeill (third round in 2021), and found a gem in 2022 sixth-round pick James Houston. Add all of that youth to a handful of carefully-selected veterans like John Cominsky and Isaiah Buggs, and all of the sudden the Lions are cooking with oil up front.
With all of that said, there is still something missing on the Lions’ defense. They need a playmaker on the interior of their defensive line. Someone that strikes fear into the hearts of offensive coordinators, a player who can wreck an entire game plan by consistently collapsing the pocket. Look no further than University of Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter.
For the sake of this exercise, we are going to focus solely on what Carter would bring to the table as a football player for the Lions. If Holmes and coach Dan Campbell feel confident enough to draft Carter after his top-30 visit, then that works for me.
Carter’s first and foremost superpower is his freaky athleticism. At 6-foot-3 and 314 pounds, Carter blends his quick-twitch athleticism with special power, and with the way he moves—you could envision him having a future on the hardwood if he were to drop some weight. Men his size shouldn’t be that fluid of an athlete. The result? A lot of interior offensive linemen left feeling bad about getting their quarterbacks and running backs smacked.
Some people will point to Carter’s lack of sack-production at Georgia as a negative (six sacks in college), but like with most sports—just looking at the box score isn’t going to tell the entire story. When you watch Carter’s film, you see splash plays all over. Just watch him walk back University of Florida guard O’Cyrus Torrence here. Torrence is going to be one of the first interior linemen taken during the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft, and yet Carter had him bounding backwards like the tape is being played backwards. Ask any quarterback at any level—the pressure they hate the most is pressure coming from right up the middle. The kind where a defensive lineman is walking a guard back into their lap. It forces them to move off their spot, and oftentimes—leads them right into the path of edge rushers who are bending the corner.
Watching O’Cyrus Torrence is reminding me of how bad I need Jalen Carter on my team pic.twitter.com/PfGPM3KDYd— Jackson Powers (Sign a NT) (@jpownfl) April 17, 2023
On top of his aforementioned freaky athletic traits, Carter is simply a menace to block. Against the run, he is a gap-destroyer—capable of getting upfield and wreaking havoc in an opponent’s backfield. And in defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn’s scheme, that is exactly what he wants out of his defensive front. Defeat blocks, muddy things up, cause chaos.
pulling clips for my Will Levis breakdown video and my eyes ended up just watching Jalen Carter (#88) manhandle Kentucky linemen in the first half pic.twitter.com/ZqBKA1YrS9— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) April 18, 2023
Carter can beat offensive linemen with his initial burst, or he can get into a guard’s chest, uproot him from his spot, and dispose of him on his way to the ball-carrier. Violent hands and an uncanny ability to slip gaps further solidify Carter as one of the best overall prospects in this class. The scary thing is that his bag of tricks and moves is only going to get deeper as he develops as a pass rusher.
Jalen Carter’s best NFL comp is _____. pic.twitter.com/u8RE0b5smL— Jack Caporuscio (@Caporuscio_Jack) April 16, 2023
Because of his Georgia pedigree, Carter has spent significant time in multiple positions along the defensive front. Despite sharing the field in 2021 with the likes of Travon Walker and Jordan Davis, Carter was still the most dominant player on that historically great unit. For the Lions, Carter would immediately slide seamlessly into the starting lineup, likely at defensive tackle—with McNeill moving to nose tackle in the Lions’ base defense. And because of their respective skill sets, Carter and McNeill would be interchangeable on the interior—giving Glenn even more options with how he wants to deploy his personnel. How does a NASCAR package consisting of Aidan Hutchinson, Josh Paschal, James Houston and Jalen Carter sound?
Long-term fit with the Lions
If the off-the-field stuff checks out with Carter, him falling to the Lions would be a huge win. If he can continue to mature (Carter is just 22 years old), he could end up being one of the more dominant interior defensive linemen in the entire NFL. I am not worried about Carter looking out of shape at his pro day. Obviously the young man was going through some things personally, and because of the immense amount of talent at Georgia, he was never asked to play a huge percentage of the snap share. The only real negative of Carter’s tape is that once in a while, he tends to stand up, making it easier for him to be moved out of his gap. Being around veterans and learning how to be a professional should clean all of that up.
If the Lions can add Carter to a defensive line that is coming off a year in which they were able to land both Hutchinson and Houston, their defensive line could quickly become one of the best in the league, and one that is poised to stay that way for quite some time.