Jalen Carter Likely To Slip In NFL Draft, Become “Value Pick” For A Team, In Face of Legal Charges

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Texas Christian at Georgia
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Top NFL draft prospect Jalen Carter turned himself in to a Georgia Sheriff’s Office Wednesday night, after police obtained a warrant for his arrest. Carter is being charged with two misdemeanors for drag racing and reckless driving, which could carry up to a year in prison, each, if he is convicted.

The charges stem from a January crash that killed Carter’s teammate Devin Willock and a member of the team’s recruitment staff, Chandler LeCroy. Carter was allegedly racing against a car driven by LeCroy and carrying Willock when LeCroy’s car jumped the road and crashed into a power pole. The crash happened just hours after the University of Georgia’s National Championship victory parade. A police investigation found that Carter and LeCroy were allegedly drag racing at high speeds and police claim Carter was driving over 100 mph. Two other individuals were also injured in the crash. Police claim Carter was not forthcoming about his involvement when initially questioned about what happened.

The defensive tackle for the Georgia Bulldogs, has long been considered a top pick in this year’s upcoming NFL draft. Many are left wondering whether his arrest will hurt his draft chances.

Mock draft experts continue to rate Carter as a top five draft pick, even following his arrest. However, many players have seen their draft stocks plummet following off-field legal issues or concerns over character and behavior. In 2015, current Bengals offensive tackle La’el Collins went completely undrafted after he agreed to speak to police regarding the death of a woman he had been in a previous relationship with, even though he wasn’t a suspect in the crime. In 2016, Laremy Tunsil, who now plays for the Houston Texans, fell to the 13th pick in the draft when a video was posted to Twitter of him inhaling what appeared to be marijuana, minutes before the NFL Draft. In 2013, Geno Smith, fell entirely out of the first round due to what some NFL insiders described as concerns unrelated to his playing performance and was selected by the Jets in the second round. In contrast, Jameis Winston was still picked #1 overall in the 2015 NFL draft despite a pending civil suit alleging sexual assault.

A study by Professor Steve Wu in 2014, found that players with “character issues” fell about 15 spots in the draft, nearly half a round below similarly qualified players who had no pending legal issues. Statistically though, the study showed that players who were arrested and charged with a crime performed comparably on the field to those with clean records. Because of their fall in draft stock they ultimately became “value picks” for teams, costing them less overall in salaries.

The study suggest that teams who are not concerned with character issues should not shy away from drafting Carter, and that teams with lower draft picks may actually benefit if Carter falls in the draft. Teams have long given players with proven NFL records second chances, despite legal investigations. The Kansas City Chiefs awarded Tyreek Hill a $54 million dollar contract months after he was investigated for allegedly assaulting his son. He was not charged but had previously pled guilty to domestic assault and battery by strangulation after being accused of assaulting his pregnant girlfriend. 

In fact, Chiefs coach Andy Reid could get an unexpected opportunity to bolster his defensive line by picking Carter with the final pick of the first round, if Carter is passed over.

The Bears, Lions, and Seahawks, three of the bottom four teams against the rush in the 2022 season, could all use a player of Carter’s stature. A strong coach like Pete Carroll or Dan Campbell may take a chance on Carter if he falls into their laps, and Carter might thrive under their discipline and locker room structure.  If not, draft day could be very long for Carter. After the Lions pick at number 6, there’s no clear landing spot for Carter until the Packers at 15 or the Giants with the 26th pick. But both of these teams have storied histories and have traditionally shied away from players with character issues.

Carter’s arrest as a highly ranked draft-prospect may ultimately have little or no effect on his chances of being drafted high in the first round by the right team but it’s likely he will not be scooped up as quickly as once anticipated, and will end up with a different team than he would have landed with had he not been charged in connection with such a tragic incident.

In terms of the legal ramifications, given the absence of a criminal record, it’s unlikely that Carter will serve prison time and may merely receive probation if convicted or if a plea deal is worked out. Carter’s ability to play will likely not be compromised.

Records from the Athens Clarke County Sherrif’s Office indicate that Carter was booked late Wednesday night but released just over 15 minutes later on bonds in the amount of $1500 and $2500. The district attorney refused to comment on the case.