INDIANAPOLIS — Jalen Carter‘s world was shaken Wednesday when a warrant was issued for his arrest, and he was forced to leave the NFL Scouting Combine to surrender to police in Georgia.
One day later, he returned to the combine, where his NFL future might not have been shaken up much at all.
The 21-year-old Carter was considered a top-three prospect and one of the best defensive players in the NFL Draft before his arrest, and that general opinion doesn’t appear to have changed — at least not yet. There is obviously concern after Carter was charged late Wednesday night with reckless driving and racing in connection to a crash that killed a Georgia football teammate and staff member last month.
But multiple NFL sources told FOX Sports they believed that while teams will take a wait-and-see approach in case more damning details are revealed later, most aren’t likely to completely shy away from a 6-foot-3, 310-pound defensive tackle who is a potentially dominant player.
It’s likely, some of those sources said, Carter will still end up in the top 10 to 15 picks, if not right back in the top five where some expected he would go all along.
The exact spot will depend on the risk tolerance of individual teams, and what happens between now and the draft April 27. So far, Carter has only been charged with two misdemeanors for his role in the fatal accident.
The NFL has a long history of tolerance for criminal activity far more serious than that.
Several league executives and coaches addressed the developments around Carter on Thursday.
“First of all, that was a horrible tragedy. Let me say that,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said. “I wouldn’t want to comment on the specifics about how that would affect somebody’s draft status, because there’s a lot more information, and I’m not privy to that. I might be by the time the draft rolls around. It was a horrible thing that happened down there, and I feel horrible for the families.”
“Lives were lost,” new Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans added. “You just think about those families who lost a loved one, and you put that at the forefront. That’s the most important thing.”
That is the most important thing, but it doesn’t change the NFL’s reality that the draft is just eight weeks away and some team is about to make a big investment in Carter. If he were to be drafted in the top five, he’d get a contract guaranteed to be worth $30-40 million. Even if he just lands somewhere in the top 20, his deal would be $15 million-plus, guaranteed.
That’s a lot of money to put into a player facing legal troubles, not to mention any other character concerns. So teams are obviously going to want to know everything about the incident before drafting Carter with a first-round pick.
And it doesn’t help that his story allegedly has been changing. According to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week, Carter initially told police that he was a mile away from the crash that killed teammate Devon Willock and staff member Chandler LeCroy.
But a press release from the Athens-Clarke County (Ga.) Police on Thursday accused LeCroy and Carter, who was driving a 2021 Jeep Trackhawk, of “operating their vehicles in a manner consistent with racing” just outside of Athens at 2:30 a.m. on January 15, the day of the crash.
“The evidence demonstrated that both vehicles switched between lanes, drove in the center turn lane, drove in opposite lanes of travel, overtook other motorists, and drove at high rates of speed, in an apparent attempt to outdistance each other,” police said, adding that LeCroy’s Expedition was going 104 miles per hour at one point.
Carter did return to the combine after posting a $4,000 bond and intended to continue his combine activities, according to an NFL source. He wasn’t planning to work out, but he did submit to medical evaluations and measurements and was expected to conduct interviews with multiple teams who were surely going to ask him about the incident.
In a statement released on Twitter, Carter vowed “to make certain that the complete and accurate truth is presented.” He added that “There is no question in my mind that when all of the facts are known that I will be fully exonerated of any criminal wrongdoing.”
That’s unlikely to happen, though, before NFL teams have to make their decisions. Carter is scheduled to be arraigned April 18 — just nine days before the NFL Draft begins.
“It’s going to be pretty heavily investigated by the media, and we’ll track that, obviously,” Commanders general manager Martin Mayhew said. “We have a company that we work with on background investigations. We have a very thorough analysis of these guys’ backgrounds, especially any criminal activity or criminal behavior.
“I don’t know what happened with him. Not saying he did anything that was wrong because I don’t know. But we’ll know. We’ll find out.”
Even if NFL teams do find out exactly what happened with Carter on the night of the fatal crash, they still have to decide what to do about it. Carter’s size and talent are tantalizing. He has been consistently ranked in the same range as Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson and Texas Tech edge rusher Tyree Wilson as one of the three best defensive prospects in his class — and frequently as the best of that trio.
Every team in the top 10 could use a player like him. But will the charges against him and the revelations about his involvement in a fatal accident lead any of them to decide all that talent comes with too great a risk?
“You know, what’s interesting is, very few guys have too many issues,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, speaking generally about players with off-field concerns. “So, it really doesn’t come up very often. But I think when it does come up, you’ve just got to decide where you draw the line. Our organization draws the line on certain things that we don’t cross over. After that, we just try to judge who they are as people.”
That line, of course, varies from organization to organization — and sometimes from player to player. So it’s an individual choice for the teams considering Carter, deciding which side of that line he lands on.
And it might depend a lot on what happens over the next eight weeks, what other information comes out, and whether his legal troubles get resolved.
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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