Markell Carter: A Closer Look a/k/a Contrary To Popular Belief We Drafted A Pass Rusher

Needless to say, we’ve all had a lot of time to let things sink in. One of the things that has been on my mind is little-known prospect and Patriots 6th round pick DE/OLB Markell Carter of Central Arkansas, who was signed to a 4 year deal yesterday.

Build: 6-4 252 lbs
Patriots Fit: 3-4 Outside Linebacker, Nickel/Dime DE
40 Yd Dash: 4.70 Pro Day (No Combine Invite)
Relevant Stats:

Season Tackles (Total) Tackles For Loss Sacks
2010 62 19 6
2009 47 11.5 6.5

One interesting note was that his 19 TFLs in 2010 accounted for 103 total yards lost.

MEASURABLES

His 35.5″ vertical leap is nothing to scoff at. In fact it would have tied him for 7th highest at the Combine with the 200th overall pick Russ Homan of Ohio State. His 4.70 isn’t anything extra impressive even for a guy who plays in the low 250’s. However, it does put him noticeably on par with a lot of higher profile guys that have been getting bigtime media love for their athleticism. Here are some similar weight class/positional candidates from the Combine:

Player Weight 40 Time
Ricky Elmore
Arizona
255 4.91
Bruce Miller
Central Florida
254 4.82
Dontay Moch
Nevada
248 4.45
Aldon Smith
Missouri
263 4.74
Akeem Ayers
UCLA
254 4.80
Martez Wilson
Illinois
250 4.44
Markell Carter
Central Arkansas
252 4.70

Think about how much you heard through March and April about what superior athletes Smith, and Ayers are. Keep that in mind when you see Carter take the field.

THE TAPE

Editors Note: I’m trying out some new Youtube tricks. The time stamps for my highlighted points now hyperlink to that moment in the Youtube clip in a separate window. This will probably be how I approach it from now on/cause way more mistakes for me.

One of the things I like about Carter is that he doesn’t waste a lot of his movements. To explain what I mean by that let me re-vist a Greg Romeus play I discussed earlier: at 0:16 here. Romeus tries every trick in the book to get the lineman to move… instead of just making the lineman work. Carter doesn’t seem to enjoy dancing with his blockers. Like a good pass rusher should, he seems to enjoy the philosophy that blitz should be the offensive line’s dilemma not his.

HAND PLACEMENT

While he’s not a dazzling athletic specimen, or an outright animal there’s something very methodical and straightforward about Carter’s game albeit potentially unexciting in Youtube form.

0:59 Note the posture and hand placement. It’s a bull rush, and he wants the whole world to know it. Carter’s hands are in the center of the linemen’s chest, and chest shooting forward driving with his legs, creating separation with his arms. The tackle bites the dust and he disrupts the pass. You’ll notice this again, and again when he engages his blockers. He’s very mindful not to be sloppy with his hands.

1:21 Same thing. This is a really nice example of driving with his legs and using his reach to separate. The tackle is instantly knocked off balance.

1:40 It’s not really a devastating chuck move, but it’s an example of violent disengage ability that I think the majority of this year’s pass rusher class lacked. It’s really encouraging to see Carter developing a repetoire for going through blockers instead of around them.

0:51 – Hardly what I call an elite change of direction, but at least he has the field vision to recognize an open lane.

NOT OVER RUNNING THE QUARTERBACK

1:48 I saw a lot of superior athletes from this draft class that were supposed to be powerhouse pass rushers waste opportunity after opportunity by over pursuing the quarterback. If you’re fainting over a guy’s 40 like it’s a Justin Beiber pullout in Seventeen, but he doesn’t use it for anything except sprinting past the quarterback what good is it? A lot of pass rushers go bust in the NFL because they can’t break the habit of running past the guy they’re supposed to be tackling. Carter has a habit of doing this mini-stutter step when he approaches a QB outside the pocket. But he seems very dedicated to the act of not letting the QB escape. He’s going to have to find a happy medium in the NFL, but I’m hardly discouraged by this.

3:31 Here’s a play I like for his ability to not blow a gimmie play. Again, going back to my past assessment of Greg Romeus that guy had a knack for blowing bread & butter plays and still padding his stats. I like that Carter can show 2 modes: a read mode and an attack mode. It’s a routine plays but good football is making the plays you’re supposed to make. I don’t mean to pick on Romeus, but he’s a guy that a lot of Pats fans wanted because of his name recognition and his exposure at Pitt. Carter went 32 picks ahead of Romeus despite playing in smaller competition, with zero name recognition, and to a coach that knows how to evaluate linebackers. Something has to add up there.

LEVEL OF COMP

In case you need a reality check in all this compliment fishing, keep your eye on the right tackle at 1:56. When you’re done laughing, remind yourself just how much all of this analysis means.

Not only was he playing in the FCS, but he didn’t really dominate there. A guy who is really a clear cut standout at the D-1AA level is a guy who can command a modicum of draft buzz for himself (Kenrick Ellis, Will Rackley). Carter was visible to only the most dedicated of all draft recluses.

MAKING THE ROSTER

The Globe printed an article 2 weeks ago that basically wrote off the entire 2nd half of this year’s draft. Their take seems to be that Carter will land a practice squad assignment, where he’ll collect minimum wage until he drifts out of the NFL. Possible, not probable.

But let’s pretend that the Globe is actually being overly cynical. If training camp started today, who does Carter actually have to beat to land a roster spot? 2nd year OLB Jermaine Cunningham is the only real lock at the position. Tully Banta-Cain was the biggest road block holding up the influx of pass rusher unknowns like Carter. He was the team sack leader with 5 sacks last year, that a lot of media outlets thought was a given to make the roster. Did anyone stop to think that leading the team with 5 sacks is more a reason to be cut that anything. TBC was a cap expense that was slow to the ball way too many times last year.

Rob Ninkovich is under contract through 2011. He’s a classic plucky whitebread Belichick guy who has a knack for making a monster play or two every other week. Fan-favoritism aside, Ninkovich’s best efforts were usually a step or two behind the play last year. He’ll make the roster as a veteran presence, but not by leaps or bounds.

DE Eric Moore had some success after joining the team late in 2010, but he’s used more in sub packages out of a 4 point stance, and probably won’t threaten the base OLBs for too many snaps.

His real competition is with the incoming class of hungry UDFA pass rushers: Clay Nurse (a beastly athletic DE counterpart to Corey Liuget at Illinois), Ryan Coulson (Nevada DE, a similar style of player to Carter, and bi-product of the Belichick “Other Guy” theorum where if everyone is talking about one guy [in this case Dontay Moch] you go get the Other Guy), Alex Silvestro (a 267 lb former team mate of Devin McCourty from Rutgers), and Aaron Lavarias (DE to OLB projection with 9.5 sacks in his senior year at Idaho). It’s going to be an interesting training camp for true-blue socially awkward defense nerds.

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