Carter, who was chosen Friday in the second round by the Dallas Cowboys, is an exceptionally fast (he has timed regularly in the 4.5 range in the 40-yard dash), explosive player whose stock slipped a little when he had reconstructive knee surgery in December after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee.
“My knee is doing great,” Carter said. “I’m able to cut now. I’m just working on that and getting my feeling back. Everything’s looking up. I’m able to get into a good workout routine. Everything is transitioning and I’m feeling more and more comfortable about it.”
But before he was hurt, Carter was a force for the North Carolina defense. A team captain in 2010, he started for four years (49 games), collecting 215 tackles, 24 tackles-for-loss, 8.5 sacks and three interceptions. At 6-1 and 241 pounds, he isn’t the biggest linebacker around, but his athleticism is pretty rare, and he’s tough, playing through ankle, thigh, knee and hamstring problems during his senior year.
“It feels great,” Carter said. “It’s America’s team – it doesn’t get any better than that. [Owner] Jerry [Jones] has built a great program starting with the coaching staff and the stadium. He’s got great players, so I’m just really happy to be a Cowboy.”
Carter’s explosive speed pays off in several areas: he can rush the passer, chase down ball carriers from behind drop into coverage (shadowing some of the shiftier tight ends and running backs), and contribute on several special teams — he blocked seven kicks in his career at Chapel Hill, including six punts.
But it’s not just his pure speed that sets Carter apart. His quickness and compact stature evoke images of former Dallas linebacker Dexter Coakley, and they have some similarity in their games. Whether in pass coverage, playing the run or zeroing in on a quarterback, Carter has a burst, an extra gear, that allows him to close in a hurry.
Twice named to the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-conference second team and a finalist for the 2010 Butkus Award (given annually to the nation’s top college linebacker), Carter — like Coakley — is not a “little guy” when it comes to his strength. He has power cleaned 374 pounds, bench pressed 440 and squatted over 600. Adding to his explosive power is a vertical jump of more than 40 inches.
As strong as he is, however, Carter is projected by most to move from his college position on the strong side to the weak side once he joins his new team.