Bruce Carter Scouting Report: Was UNC Linebacker Correct Pick for Cowboys?

Jonathan BalesAnalyst IApril 29, 2011

In my post on my initial reactions to the Bruce Carter selection, I noted that if the Cowboys envision Carter as an edge-rusher, I think they could have found value at a position of greater need.  

One of the reasons for that is my high opinion concerning the Cowboys’ current outside linebacker corps.  I graded the position as the Cowboys’ second-strongest and gave the following grades to DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and Victor Butler:

1. DeMarcus Ware: A (94.0)

  • 2009 Grade: A (94.0)

2.  Victor Butler: B+ (89.8)

  • 2009 Grade: C (76.0)

3.  Anthony Spencer: B (84.6)

  • 2009 Grade: A- (92.0)

The idea that Spencer had a “horrible” year is absurd.  He played average but most of the media criticized him because of incredibly high expectations.  He still had 11 more tackles than Ware.

Butler is one of my favorite players on the team and I think he has potential to be a very solid all-around outside linebacker.  His run defense improved immensely, and his rush off the edge is elite at times.

Butler actually recorded a quarterback pressure on 11.8 percent of rushes last season–greater than Ware’s 11.0 percent.  And no, that wasn’t because Butler played on only passing downs since his 39.5 percent of snaps against the run was highest of any outside linebacker.

I explained why people should hold off on thinking Carter will stay at outside linebacker in Dallas, and all of the above pushes me to believe the Cowboys envision Carter as an inside linebacker with pass-rush versatility.

I can’t say that makes me agree with the pick, but it certainly softens the blow.  I would have been fine with Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson, whose skill set is similar to that of Carter.  The ‘Boys simply had Carter rated where I had Wilson.

After watching as much film of Carter as possible, here is my more in-depth scouting report. . .


Scouting Report

At just 241 pounds, Carter will have to put on some weight if he is truly set to be an outside linebacker in Dallas.  More likely is that he will stay at inside linebacker for awhile, with Rob Ryan finding creative ways to utilize Carter’s skill set.  

Against the run, Carter takes very good angles.  He uses “inside-out” leverage, using the sideline as help when possible.  He will sometimes use the ”wrong” shoulder to take on blockers, allowing the ball-carrier to find a cut-back lane.  His overall play recognition is solid, though, and he seems to diagnose screens particularly well.

Others argue that Carter is weak in coverage, but I think he will be fine.  He kind of reminds me of Bradie James in pass coverage in that he does not always seem totally natural, but he uses his skills well to get the job done.  He has lots of experience in zone coverage in particular.  

In my opinion, the Tar Heels really utilized Carter poorly, dropping him into coverage far too often and not developing his pass rush.  This has led to a very weak pass-rush repertoire.  He has some upside as a rusher or blitzer from the inside position, but he is raw.

Carter seems a bit robotic and stiff-hipped at times, despite his incredible athleticism.  Whereas a player like Sean Lee last season lacked some athleticism but played “instinctually,” I am afraid Carter is the opposite.

I need to watch more tape, but he sometimes appears to be thinking too much or sticking exactly to his assignment instead of reading, reacting, and making a football play.

The major issue I have with the selection of Carter is that he is unlikely to make a major contribution right away.  He won’t start at either linebacker spot, so he will be relegated primary to special teams duty in his rookie season.

Carter did block six kicks at UNC, so he has some value there.  Still, special teams ability isn’t really on the top of my priority list in the second round.

Overall, Carter is a good kid and a hard worker who should improve in Dallas.  If you are less than thrilled with this selection and need positive spin, remember that Carter has very good athleticism, tremendous upside, and potential versatility.  

Or, just look at the 22-second mark against LSU.