When the Seattle Seahawks drafted Alabama offensive lineman James Carpenter in 2011, they believed they were getting a versatile, road-grading run-blocker. Draft analysts pegged him as a utility player who had the potential to play three different spots on the offensive line.
Coming out of college, his most natural position was right tackle, while his secondary positions were right guard and left guard. At the time of the draft, head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider needed help on the right side of the offensive line in the worst way. This, in turn, made Carpenter the obvious choice at the end of the first round.
Unfortunately, the first-team all-SEC selection has failed to live up to his lofty draft status.
Over the course of his two-year career, the 321-pound giant has only appeared in 16 games. Eight of those 16 appearances were at left guard, and eight were at right tackle.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Carpenter has surrendered nine quarterback sacks, 11 quarterback hits and 28 quarterback hurries on 954 snaps. By season’s end in 2011, he graded out as PFF’s 66th-best offensive tackle (subscription required).
Even though he showed improvement in 2012, he still finished as one of the worst run-blocking guards in the NFL. Only 15 players had lower run-blocking grades than Carpenter based on PFF’s grading system (subscription required).
There’s no question that various injuries in 2011 and 2012 capped Carpenter’s ceiling as a player. In-game experience fuels improvement and progression. Yet, injuries are a part of the game. So, it’s hard to tell whether or not the third-year pro would perform any better than he currently has if he played a full 16-game slate.
His pass-protection woes were seemingly taken care of when he moved inside to left guard, but his run-blocking ability regressed on a weekly basis in 2012. No one game exposed his weakness more than Seattle’s Week 12 contest against the Miami Dolphins.
On this play, the Seahawks offense deployed two tight ends, two running backs and one wide receiver. Carpenter’s assignment called for a one-on-one matchup against Pro Bowl defensive tackle Randy Starks.
Carpenter and Starks (circled) engaged one another at the 20-yard line, while running back Marshawn Lynch patiently waited for the ball on a slow-developing toss play. The left guard’s responsibility was to stand the right defensive tackle up and hold the block until the running back cleared the 20-yard line.
As you can see, Carpenter blew his assignment and was simply overpowered by Starks. This, in turn, allowed Starks to run Lynch down and stop him for no gain. Carpenter displayed poor technique on the play. His feet stopped moving, and his straight-up-and-down stature allowed for very little resistance.
The second example of Carpenter’s below-average run-blocking ability hones in on his inability to move opposing defenders off their spots.
The Seahawks had three wide receivers and two running backs on the field. Their intention on this play was to run Lynch off of Carpenter’s back side. Carpenter was matched up against right defensive tackle Paul Soliai.
When quarterback Russell Wilson handed Lynch the ball, Soliai had already pushed Carpenter back behind the line of scrimmage two yards. Carpenter’s inability to generate a push up front stopped the play dead in its tracks.
Luckily enough, Lynch made a nice cut and made something out of nothing. By the end of the play, Carpenter was manhandled all the all the way outside the left hash mark. To put his failure in perspective, he started in between the right hash mark and the left hash mark.
After one takes the time to analyze the tape, it appears as if a healthy Carpenter isn’t overly important to Seattle’s success in 2013. Sure, he’s only 24 years old, but he needs to take his game to a whole new level to become an impact player.
His technique needs to improve tenfold, and he needs to be more consistent on a play-to-play basis. There are far too many plays on which he mails it in if he’s beaten off the ball. Instead of giving up, Carpenter should readjust mid play.
Moreover, Carpenter needs to be confident his knee will hold up over the course of a 16-game season. Injuries can often make players fearful, especially after a player has suffered multiple injuries to the same knee. Being overly cautious will not only hurt his individual performance; it will hurt the overall performance of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s offense.
Despite his injury history and poor play in seasons past, Carpenter will be given every opportunity to be the team’s starting left guard. Here’s what Carroll told Eric D. Williams of The News Tribune:
James has a tremendous upside for us, and I’m anxious for you guys to see what he’s capable of doing. He can give us a special dimension if we can get him back. He should be healthy, and it’s just a matter of us getting him in shape, and we’ll be very careful to make sure we don’t rush him along.
It’s nice to know Carroll is excited for his return, but he would be better off counting on Paul McQuistan at left guard. McQuistan started seven regular-season games and two playoff games at left guard in 2012.
Additionally, playing McQuistan at left guard would give John Moffitt and J.R. Sweezy opportunities to battle for a starting spot at right guard.
The three players mentioned above are more important to Seattle’s success than Carpenter for two reasons. McQuistan, Moffitt and Sweezy have outperformed Carpenter on the field, and they have all proven to be less injury prone.
Carp may easily have the most long-term upside at left guard; the problem is he’s not quite primed for a breakout campaign in 2013.