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Know Your Draft Pick: Bruce Carter

Bruce Carter is a very solid outside linebacker. At 6'2", 240lbs he's fairly big, but he's a physical freak. He's a hard hitter, fills his gaps well in the running game, possesses a good feel for zone coverage and has the explosion to contribute as a blitzer. He's an aggressive tackler and does a good job avoiding blockers to get to a play. Unfortunately he is not as good at shedding blocks, but he's always around the ball. The Tar Heels asked him to drop back into coverage a lot, even aligning him over slot receivers with some frequency. He has all the athleticism to be a standout in coverage and although he doesn't always react to the ball well, he has a knack for being in the right spot. One last aspect of his game: he displayed a talent for blocking kicks, blocking 8 kicks because of his excellent explosion off the ball. That makes me think he could develop as a pass rusher too.

Bruce Carter's stats aren't all that remarkable: 190 tackles, 9 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 3 interceptions in 3 years. Carter isn't a big-play kind of guy, even though he does have the talent to be one. If he continues to develop at the NFL level he could turn into a real impact player at the next level. If  he doesn't, he could turn into a starting linebacker who no one notices. That's good and you need that kind of player, but that's not what you want out of a first-round pick. Yet up until December 22nd you saw mock drafts around the web that had the Bucs picking Bruce Carter at #20. On December 22nd, though, Carter's stock took a major hit: he tore his ACL in a game against North Carolina State. Because of that injury Carter has not and will not work out for teams before the draft, and it's not certain that he'll be ready once the NFL season starts either. But because his draft stock dropped, he could be a major steal for a team selecting in the second round. If he fell to the Bucs in the second round the Bucs could grab a first-round talent with a second-round pick. 

Now let's take a look at what some of the scouting sites think of Bruce Carter. The guys over at Mocking the Draft really like Carter's athleticism and his skills in pursuit, but they question his instincts in coverage and his ability to shed blocks. It's notable that they think he has the potential to be a good pass rusher but that he hasn't developed this skill yet, because he was never asked to. They also write that he struggles to shed blocks, and that's the one area of his game that really requires improvement. Note that this scouting report was written after the 2009 season and Bruce Carter improved since then. He's not as raw as Mocking the Draft would have you believe. 

Over at the scouts feel like Carter is one of the most explosive prospects of the draft, but has only average instincts. Because he relies so much on athleticism, they think his ACL injury is a huge hit to his stock. If he loses some explosion due to the knee injury he isn't close to the player he was at North Carolina. Interestingly they actually note he's good at shedding blocks - Carter probably improved significantly at that aspect of his game from '09 to '10. The big negative for Carter would be his aggression, which causes him to overshoot tackles and get fooled by misdirection. This again comes back to instincts. 

And finally, the National Football Post writers feel like Carter is a terrific prospect and they have few questions about his ability to play, except for his ability to shed blocks. He does have the talent to do so, but not the technique. Unfortunately they also see some problems with his instincts, and they see the ACL injury as a major risk. 

Overall, I think Carter is a terrific athlete who can do well against the run, in coverage and as a pass rusher. The biggest question marks surround his instincts and his injured knee. He can still develop those instincts and improve them through film study, but it's impossible to know how his knee will hold up in the future. There are too many question marks to select him in the first round, but if he falls to the Bucs in the second round he'd be a good addition to the team.