Will Deadly January Car Accident Tank Jalen Carter’s Draft Stock?

How could Jalen Carter's reckless driving and racing charges affect the Georgia Bulldog's NFL Draft stock?

The world we live in is not black and white. Good people are more than capable of doing bad, even horrible, things in their lives, and the opposite is just as true. When it comes to the case of Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter, who many pegged as a top-five pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, only those close to him know the truth. But negatives are beginning to mount in Carter’s corner.

It’s a tragedy whenever young men and women die. The unfortunate nature of covering the NFL and sports, in general, is that we must talk about the sport and how that loss of life and the cause of it affect the game.

The facts are Carter was there the night that Devin Willock and Chandler LeCroy were killed in a single-vehicle crash. After investigating the incident, Athens-Clarke County Police Department charged Carter with reckless driving and racing.

While the incident is the most serious red flag surrounding Carter, it is not the first.

Jalen Carter’s ‘Character Concerns’

The old adage is that we all make mistakes. I sure have. And when you have a Dodge Hellcat-powered Jeep Trackhawk at your disposal, the “Fast & Furious” can sometimes become a reality and not simply a movie franchise.

I know from experience. As a 21-year-old Specialist in the U.S. Army, I had a 2006 Roush Mustang that produced over 500 wheel horsepower and 600 foot-pounds of torque. And I immediately learned that drag strips exist and that the road is not our toy.

But Carter didn’t have a deployment to Afghanistan to mature him. And the confidence bordering on arrogance that comes with being an elite-level athlete often does not stop on the field.

In September, Carter was cited for going 89 mph in a 45 mph zone. Even on a football field surrounded by thousands of people, it’s difficult to find an adrenaline rush akin to going as fast as possible in a vehicle.

The important thing is that we learn from our experiences and our mistakes. Usually, those mistakes don’t result, even indirectly, in the loss of life. That is a lesson that there is no excuse not to learn from.

In December, ESPN’s Todd McShay said, “Does he get along with everybody? What’s he like to deal with in the locker room? Those sorts of issues. I know it’s early in the process, but I’m forewarning everybody out there, Carter is going to be a hot-button name when we talk about some of the intangible aspects of it.”

The internet absolutely eviscerated McShay for making the claims, which he did not expound upon. Last week, stories began popping up about Carter’s charitable contributions to walk-on teammate Weston Wallace in the form of free lunch.

Walk-ons do not receive free food, so Carter used his scholarship money to pay for Wallace’s meals. And he did so anonymously, according to Wallace.

“No one told him to do that. The nutritionist informed me about it. Had she not told me, I wouldn’t have known about it. And that’s what I like about it.”

Other teammates and former teammates reacted to McShay’s report with contempt. Ryland Goede tweeted, “What’s he like in the locker room, you ask? One of my favorite guys to be around. ALL-AROUND STUD as a player and as a friend/teammate.”

How Could This Affect Jalen Carter’s Draft Stock?

This certainly isn’t the first time we’ve seen somewhat similar concerns surrounding draft prospects as the draft inches closer. Joe Mixon, Jeffery Simmons, and even Laremy Tunsil can attest to that.

We hear vagueries spewed by anonymous sources all the time regarding a player’s character flaws. Sometimes there is legitimacy to the reports, while other times, they are nothing more than fairytales, sometimes told by teams that want that player to slip just low enough so they may draft them.

While the physical altercations Mixon and Simmons found themselves in were disturbing to watch, they did not result in the loss of life. Arguably the most heinous accusations surrounding a top pick were levied against Micah Parsons and Yetur Gross-Matos by former Penn State teammate Isaiah Humphries. The suit alleged sexual harassment with horrific details attached to the case.

Parsons ended up being the 12th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Simmons was the 19th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, but his situation was complicated further because he was recovering from an ACL tear.

The situation surrounding Carter is complex. If there are questions about his locker room presence and he has an immature streak in him, maybe he slightly tumbles down draft boards.

It only takes one team to pull the trigger on drafting Carter. And while Carter’s situation is unquestionably horrible, his actions were not inherently malicious. And teams will look right past incidents like this when the talent outweighs the potential PR hit.

Update: Carter made a statement via his Twitter account. “This morning I received a telephone call from the Athens, Georgia Police Department informing me that two misdemeanor warrants have been issued against me for reckless driving and racing. Numerous media reports also have circulated this morning containing inaccurate information concerning the tragic events of January 15, 2023. It is my intention to return to Athens to answer the misdemeanor charges against me and to make certain that the complete and accurate truth is presented. 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.”

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