The Bucs added former Cowboy LB Carter this month. I anticipated them adding a LB in free agency but I did not have Carter on my wish list. I should have. And here’s why:
In a league full of physical marvels Carter is a legit freak. His speed and cover ability make him a great fit in a Tampa2 defense that has always valued undersized, physical, fleet LBs. Once again Licht and Lovie have focused on a guy who has extensive experience in the scheme, meaning he should contribute quickly. Carter’s ability to play all three LB spots is a big asset, as injuries inevitably push starters to the sidelines. Best of all, the Bucs seem to be landing Carter at a point in his career when the light has finally gone on, allowing him to match his rare athletic gifts with a confident, intuitive approach to the game. Coming out of UNC he was intriguing but raw, and the Cowboys did the Bucs the favor of getting some of the kinks out.
So where does Carter fit? Odds are he’ll end up as the strongside starter, at least to begin with — a role primarily filled by Dominick-find Danny Lansanah last season. Lansanah, however, ended up getting MLB reps last season and looked solid there, likely making the Bucs’ brass consider life without entrenched MLB starter Mason Foster. And that’s understandable. Foster (now a Bear) was steady but also anything but special, and he’s far from a playmaker or enforcer type. Lansanah, on the other hand — while limited in terms of his speed and range — proved to be a physical presence inside with a knack for making plays near the line of scrimmage. So…on paper right now I see the 2015 starters as David at WLB, Lansanah at MLB and Carter at SLB. All of that said, Carter’s rare athleticism, cover skills and explosive play will lead the Bucs to experiment with him at the middle linebacker spot in camp, and he has a legit chance to win the role, relegating Lansanah to MLB duty again. After the 3-tech tackle the MLB is the most critical role in this defense, and physical, instinctive MLB play can make the difference between a good and a great defensive showing.
If I have a reservation it’s with Carter’s instincts and ability to diagnose plays. He has yet to convince me that he has an innate feel for the game like, well, Lansanah. When I watch Carter he reminds me a lot of former Buc LB Quincy Black, a player sadly lost to injury just as he seemed to be coming into his own. Like Black, Carter blew scouts away with his Tarzan physique and insane measurables (long jump, vertical jump, shuttle, etc.) coming put of college. But, like Carter, his mental game too time to catch up to his physical blessings, especially within a scheme that asks an awful lot of it’s Mike ‘backer. Regardless, keep an eye on Carter, a guy who could be anything from a solid contributor at strongside linebacker to the first game-changing Buccaneer middle linebacker since the great Hardy Nickerson.
Reminds me of: Former Bucs LB Quincy Black
Verdict: Carter fits the defense and his eye-popping physical ability makes his ceiling very high, but his instincts and the mental side of his game need improvement. Considering age, skill set and fit, I give this one an 7 out of 10 on the Scrappy Scale.