Wednesday was shaping up to be a typical day here in Indianapolis at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine. The hundreds of media crowded in front of the eight interview podiums and three tables and went about our business, talking to players and hoping to get a sound bite or two that might resonate.
And then Jalen Carter happened.
Less than two hours before Carter, a consensus top-five talent in the draft class, was scheduled to speak at Podium 1, a warrant for his arrest in Georgia hit the wires. Carter was charged with his involvement in a fatal traffic accident that happened in January in the Athens area. In the arrest warrant, Carter is cited for excessive speed, reckless operation and more during an alleged street racing incident. Killed in the accident were a Georgia teammate and a Bulldogs staffer.
Carter never appeared at the podium, obviously. He’s apparently not even in Indianapolis anymore (I’m writing this at 2 p.m.). And the Combine was turned on its head in an unfortunate instant.
The details of the tragic accident and Carter’s level of involvement in it remain unverified. It’s irresponsible to say more than this: it’s very bad timing for Carter and cannot be good for his draft stock.
Honestly, it feels trite to even talk about how it might impact Carter’s draft position. Two people lost tragically their lives. Horribly. Unnecessarily. What happens to the career outlook of someone who had some apparent level of involvement in their death feels ridiculous to discuss. It’s a sentiment shared by many colleagues here covering the Combine; let me make that very clear.
There are blurry lines in these sorts of situations. Innocent until proven guilty is often more lip service than reality. From an NFL standpoint, teams cannot presume that right will be given to Carter.
Is it fair to question the timing of the arrest warrant? Absolutely! Is it also fair to have serious reservations about Carter’s character? Heck yeah it is. If some of the allegations are proven true, I wouldn’t want him anywhere near my team. I suspect many fans will feel the same.
Having covered the Browns during this whole Deshaun Watson ordeal, I know many fans, media--even some teammates--will never make peace with the presence of someone charged with an even more serious crime than Watson was alleged to commit. Even if Carter gets cleared or pleas down to a lesser charge, that damage is already done. He’ll forever be tainted by it, even if it turns out Carter is proven to do nothing wrong.
How will NFL teams weigh that? It’s a difficult question, one that I suspect has more than 30 answers. We’ll find out at the end of April.