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Why Bruce Carter Can Give the Dallas Cowboys Best NFC Linebackers

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Why Bruce Carter Can Give the Dallas Cowboys Best NFC Linebackers

You often hear the term “value” being tossed around both prior and following the NFL Draft.

It’s no more than an estimate at these times, seeing as how nobody really knows for sure how a given player will pan out in the NFL. After all, these are college kids entering the highest level of football, and there is a huge difference between where they came from and where they are going.

Sometimes the real value of a player is determined right away. Other times, there could be a wait of anywhere from a few games to possibly an entire season—or longer.

Either way, value basically refers to where a given player is chosen with respect to where he should have been chosen—or not.

The Dallas Cowboys hit a home run in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft selecting linebacker Sean Lee of Penn State. The two-year veteran from Linebacker U already has six interceptions and 137 combined tackles—105 of those tackles coming last season without sharing any playing time with the rapidly fading Keith Brooking.

Dallas may have hit another home run in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft with the selection of Bruce Carter from North Carolina.

Both Lee and Carter suffered significant knee injuries that affected both their draft stocks and playing time as rookies in the pros. The main difference between these two highly-regarded prospects from well-respected defensive programs was that Lee was injured a year before Carter and was therefore able to play more downs as a rookie than Carter.

To look at Carter’s professional resume with the Cowboys right now would lead the typical Tony Romo hater to proclaim that he’s a bust and that should be released and sent straight to the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville.

Handout/Getty Images
Dallas inside linebacker Bruce Carter.

A more educated fan will likely realize that Carter only played in 10 games in a very reserved role and really can’t be judged at all—especially not after a rushed training camp which included a new defensive playbook being installed by new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

The Cowboys realized that Carter would be slow in getting onto the field and, given Carter’s North Carolina resume, this was more than acceptable.

After all, the Cowboys had no logical reason to believe that they were on the cusp of reaching a Super Bowl following an embarrassing 6-10 season that also saw the firing of former head coach Wade Phillips midseason.

As a freshman in 2007, Carter blocked a punt in his first game at Chapel Hill against James Madison. The ball was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.

Was this beginner’s luck? Not even close.

As a sophomore starting all 13 games for the Tar Heels in 2008, Carter led the nation with—get this—five blocked kicks which included three punts deflected in a single game against Connecticut.

What?

In each season following his freshman tour of duty, Carter took interceptions back for touchdowns which cemented his status as one of the premier linebacker prospects in the country prior to his injury as a senior.

In only his junior campaign did he not block a kick of some kind.

Sure, Lee has been a near instant success with the Cowboys coming off an impressive career with the Nittany Lions. I previously listed Lee as the second of 10 Cowboys players to watch in future years, and I think he’s among three defensive players that are untouchable on the Dallas defensive depth chart.  

But even Lee did not display the alarming and consistent playmaking ability in college that Carter did. Carter is more athletic and definitely faster than Lee with the ball in his hands—as the included highlight video illustrates.

We're talking about a linebacker here as opposed to a running back!

If Carter can stay healthy, then it could mean a dramatic turnaround for the Dallas defense and special teams beginning in 2012.

My only concern with Carter is his size, which right now is a little light. This could be a liability against the run mainly because the Cowboys play so small at the nose guard position. But if Carter is free to flow to the ball carrier without 320-pound offensive guards coming at him, then Dallas could trim that 4.4 yards per carry average given up in 2011 substantially.

If this happens, then Carter and Lee will play more coverage and both have a history of picking off passes and scoring.

This is a good thing for sure.

This isn’t the first time the Cowboys essentially took a flier on a player that wouldn’t immediately pay the kind of dividends that today’s impatient and less knowledgeable fan expects.

Names like “Bullet” Bob Hayes, Roger Staubach, Herschel Walker and Chad Hennings more than prove that patience can pay off in ways that could only be imagined. Remember that Deion Sanders, signed in 1995, didn’t play until almost the midway point of Dallas’ last championship season the same year..

Yes, all good things come to those who wait.      

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