Weighing whether Jamal Carter's switch to ILB improves his odds at making Broncos' 53-man roster
Jamal Carter was an undrafted diamond in the rough the Denver Broncos found a couple of years ago, and he made the 53-man roster as a reserve safety his rookie year (2017).
Big things were expected of him in his second year, but it was over before it really began with a hamstring injury that saw him miss the entire season. Carter is now year three, and the question was, where would he be in terms of development after missing his sophomore year?
The way he's answered that question hasn't been encouraging for his roster prospects.
Off to a forgettable start at safety
Through two preseason games, Carter has been noticed for the wrong reasons. I've written about just how bad he's looked.
To sum it up, Jamal Carter was playing himself off the Broncos' roster and out of the possibility of the practice squad as well. But that was at safety, and we now find out that the team is switching him to off-ball linebacker. Could this be a move that saves his career and opens the way to the Broncos' roster?
Moving a player that is struggling to a new position doesn’t often work out. It also happens because of the player's struggles at their previous position.
It's the last resort to get things turned around for the player and for the interests of the team. Of course, there are some exceptions, like DeMarcus Walker, who was moved because of weight issues. Carter isn’t an exception. He was moved because of his struggles at safety.
It's a net gain for Carter — and the team
This is a good move for both parties. Carter showed he can work well in the box his rookie year, and looked better there in the preseason than playing deep like safeties in the scheme more often do.
This move is putting Carter in a position where he can play to his strengths, which gives him a better shot at making the roster, rather than keeping him where he isn’t the best fit and with other players drastically outperforming him.
Moving into the box will help Carter's coverage issues and take away some of the mental aspects of coverage that he had to deal with as a safety. He won’t be playing deep zones, but zones in the middle of the field where he'll be taking on running backs and tight ends — something more to his speed.
As for the run game, I have concerns about Carter taking on and getting off blocks at his sub-220 weight. If he can get through cleanly, then he can blow up the play, but linebackers often have to take on and shed blocks to get to the ball-carrier. Seeing him do that is a must.
“Just watch him and see if you think he fits," head coach Vic Fangio said following Monday's camp practice. "I know that sounds easy, but you kind of know what a linebacker should look like in the NFL and just looking to see if he looks like that because he doesn’t know everything right now and what he’s supposed to do. Obviously all the DBs think they can be linebackers until somebody fires out at them, one of those guards or tackles. See how he handles that, too.”
So does this move give Jamal Carter a better shot at making the roster? In a word, yes, and not just because it fits his playstyle better. At safety, Denver is keeping five or six players.
Justin Simmons, Will Parks, Dymonte Thomas and Su’a Cravens have all drastically out-performed Carter thus far. Trey Marshall has also been better, but not dramatically. Then you add in Kareem Jackson, who is going to play a lot at safety. There just wasn’t a spot for Carter there, and he likely would have been cut.
As for off-ball linebacker, Todd Davis has been banged up and is still missing time. Josey Jewell was also banged up last week, but has since returned to practice. The depth at ILB has been solid, but nothing that screams, “This guy is making the roster", outside of the starting duo.
It's a battle that Carter actually has a chance at winning. He begins his ILB career behind Alexander Johnson, Keishawn Bierria, Josh Watson and Joe Dineen, but as I said, none of them have a spot on lock. For backup linebacker, edges Justin Hollins and Dekoda Watson have actually looked the best when looking at backup ILBs in games and practice.
Jamal Carter has good speed and quickness for a linebacker, but can he handle those duties against the run? He has three preseason games to show he can, but no matter what happens, this move gives him a better shot at the 53-man roster than keeping him at safety would have.
I love the idea to move Carter, and am excited to see what he will do from here.
Follow Erick on Twitter @ErickTrickel.