PITTSBURGH — Would the Pittsburgh Steelers draft Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter if the fell to them at No. 17? Would Carter be worth trading up for if he falls out of the top five?
These are questions that Mike Tomlin and Omar Khan — along with every other NFL general manager — will have to answer before the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft on Thursday.
Carter is one of the consensus top players in the draft class, but has been sliding down board since his involvement in a street racing accident that caused the death of one of his teammates and a Georgia staffer in the aftermath of the Bulldogs’ national championship celebration.
Thought the accident that killed Carter’s teammate Devin Willock and Georgia football staff member Chandler LeCroy happened in January, Carter’s involvement was not revealed until March, when a warrant was issued for his arrest while he was attending the start of the 2023 NFL Combine.
By then, Carter had become a consensus top pick in the draft class, and was slotted as a potential No. 1 overall pick, while the Chicago Bears still held that slot. Now, the Bears traded that pick to the quarterback-hunting Carolina Panthers and Carter has moved down draft boards.
Carter was the consensus No. 1 pick according to NFL Mock Draft Database on March 1, the day of his indictment. He promptly fell to No. 8 before settling in between those extremes.
It seems unlikely that Carter will fall to the Steelers at No. 17. If the Steelers want to get him, they’ll have to pay a price to trade up. That exacerbates the risk of taking a player with a character concern.
So that makes their pre-draft evaluation all that much more important. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and Omar Khan went to the Georgia pro day, where they scouted Carter in person and got to talk to his teammates and coaches about the star defensive tackle.
But that’s just part of the process in making such a determination. Carter notably refused to take pre-draft visits with teams outside the top 10, meaning he did not come to Pittsburgh for a private chat. But much of the work the Steelers do on the backgrounds of prospects occurs in the background.
“When there’s character questions, we simply do the work,” Tomlin said Monday when asked what the Steelers approach in general is to evaluating character concerns. “Doing the work is boots on the ground, relationships in their town and getting information about their day to day from people in those environments. It’s about interviewing them and talking to them about their past and what they learned and the steps they’ve taken in an effort to improve. It’s professional research, private investigation. We utilize all the tools at our disposal to gain enough information to make an appropriate position on subjects such as that and at the end of the day, we make a Steelers decision and we go with it.”
That process will be the same for every such player the Steelers evaluate. But whether the keep a player on or take a player off the team’s draft board, or to move him down based on character concerns or — in this specific scenario, whether or not to trade up to get him — is different based on each player and each situation.
“What the tipping point is in terms of taking someone off the board or leaving someone on the board, those are not black and white discussions,” Tomlin said. “Those are handled on an individual basis based on the information that we gather and the amount of that information.”
That, of course, tells us little about whether the Steelers will or won’t take a bold swing at the top defensive tackle. But one way or the other, it’s clear they’ll have a good grasp of what kind of player they’ll be getting if they do. The Steelers have put the
“There could not be a more perfect coach for Carter than Mike Tomlin,” Peter King of NBC Sports wrote last week.