Over the next few weeks I will be writing a series analyzing the seven Steelers draft picks. Each article will focus on a player’s strengths, weaknesses, and fit with the organization. Every Steelers selection will also be rated based on position needs and available prospects
Historically, Steelers fifth-round draft picks have made little impact in the NFL. The round is traditionally utilized for selecting players high on potential but low on other valuable intangibles.
Chris Carter follows this mold exactly.
Carter played as a defensive lineman in college but will be transformed into an outside linebacker in the NFL. The difference between developing into a stud or a dud is how long, and smoothly, his transformation goes.
Expediting Carter’s change is his unique ability to pass rush. The 22-year-old turns the corner easily and is able to get under offensive linemen’s shoulders to reach the backfield. His speed and agility make him a mismatch when challenged on the outside. A lightning spin move is just enough to keep opponents guessing.
Explosive acceleration makes Carter a threat to reach the quarterback on every passing play. Often compared to LaMarr Woodley, the Fresno St. alum lacks similar size but is able to best Woodley’s speed. The biggest difference between the two is strength. Carter features a small frame and is often over-matched when having to power rush offensive linemen. He has, however, developed good vision to break away from his block when the ball is advanced past him. His solid fundamentals and strong tackling allow him to finish the play strong.
Trained as a defensive end, Carter lacks in all areas pertaining to linebackers. He is unable to drop into pass coverage and is easily confused by zone schemes–something that won’t thrill Defensive Cordinator Dick LeBeau. When Carter does manage to cover his receiver, he loses focus on the backfield, allowing long rushes.
Only one thing is certain with Carter: he will need time to develop. Primarily looked at as a special teams player now, his speed and athleticism could allow him to develop in the Steelers’ next Woodley. That said, he is a stretch to make the opening roster. A good work ethic and high intensity level may push him over the hump.
In terms of becoming a linebacker, Carter lacks almost all the necessary traits. While he could play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, his only legitimate threat right now is his pass rush. Pittsburgh left a far better linebacker on the table when they passed on North Carolina’s Quan Sturdivant. It is hard to believe that Carter will develop into even an average starter.