When the Detroit Lions came into the 2015 NFL Draft one of their main goals was to find Rashean Mathis’s eventual replacement. Rashean Mathis was an amazing player for the Lions last year but they cannot expect him to continue to play at that rate for much longer considering his age. The Lions needed some young talent that they could mentor and prepare for a starting role, similar to how they treated Darius Slay in 2013. When the third round of the draft came the Lions selected Alex Carter from Stanford. They got an extremely smart and versatile corner who fit the Detroit Lions mold.
One of Martin Mayhew’s biggest accomplishments over the last couple of years is how he effectively changed the culture of the Detroit Lions. The Lions are not showing up in the news every week with a new arrest. Instead they have invested in high character football players who live to play this game. Alex Carter fits this mold. His father played with Martin Mayhew for the Washington Redskins and you can tell he’s a players son. He has gotten glowing remarks from every coach he has played for and you can see his intelligence on the field. He was a huge contributor at Stanford for three years and started in 33 games throughout his career. He is an experienced player who showed an excellent understanding of his assignments and was a player the coaches at Stanford could always count on.
Alex Carter is an average athlete by NFL standards(RAS Rating per @mathbomb and Mockdraftable Spider Web below). This is in no way a bad thing. He is plenty athletic enough to excel in the NFL and it rarely shows up as a problem in his tape. He is able to stay with any receiver and faced a lot of elite offenses in his time at Stanford. He was matched up against Marquise Lee, Nelson Agholor, and Brandin Cooks and held his own. His long speed was never a problem in these games and it should not hinder him in the NFL. When he was beaten deep it was usually because he got beat off the line of scrimmage not because of his speed. He has the size Mayhew covets in his corners and the vertical jump to make him a difficult corner to test with jump balls. His high marks in the bench press show his work ethic and willingness to put in the hours at the gym.
Run Game and Blitzing
Alex Carter was a significant contributor in the run game, a key aspect when the Lions evaluate corners, and constantly displayed his toughness. He never was afraid of contact and relished the opportunity to contribute. Below is a great example, he disengages from his blocker and explodes onto the ball carrier to stop him for a loss. Carter is great at setting the edge and funneling plays inside to limit big plays. He is a complete corner who will compete in any phase of the game.
Another underrated aspect of his game is his ability to rush the passer. He forced numerous pressures on very few opportunities and seems to enjoy making the quarterback uncomfortable anyway he can. Watch how he sets up the running back and bursts around him to almost sack the quarterback in the play below. If it was not for a great play by Kessler and his teammate running into him he most likely would’ve made the stop on third down.
Ability in Coverage
Alex Carter was rarely beaten deep in coverage, he was constantly in the hip pocket of receivers when he matched up against them. Below is a play against USC in 2013, he is in great position against Nelson Agholor as the ball is in the air. He fails to locate the ball and Agholor makes a play over him. This play is an outlier however as I have not seen a lot of similar plays. Normally he locates the ball and tries to make a play on it but still its cause for concern.
Much more common are the similar sticky coverages with plays on the ball like this one against Michigan State. He stays with Bennie Fowler throughout the coverage and notices when he is trying to locate the ball. He flips his body and makes a great play which could’ve been an interception had it not been for Bennie Fowler. Both of these plays show great positioning but the second one shows how important awareness is when you play cornerback. He has shown the ability to excel in this area and this play shows the type of talent he can become. He has no problem covering bigger wide receivers and plays bigger than six foot because of his long arms (32.125 inches) and vertical ability. This makes him a very valuable commodity especially when you face Alshon Jeffery twice a year.
His movement skills are above average and he excels at mirroring wide receivers in man coverage. He has the explosiveness to recover when he is beaten off the line and has shown the ability to cover in breaking routes. When he recognizes these routes he explodes on the ball and tries to force an incompletion in any way possible. The play against Bennie Fowler below is a perfect example. He is in good position and does not give up on the play to the very end forcing the ball out. This is a constant theme with Alex Carter, he is always trying to attack the ball. He even led Stanford as a Freshman with three forced fumbles. This tenacity is a trait the Lions always look for in their players and is a great sign for him.
Big Game Specialist
One thing you notice about Carter is he seems to step up in the big moments. One of his best games was against Michigan State in the Rose Bowl. He was not tested very often and when he was it was very unsuccessful. He was all over the field and recorded a couple of pass breakups, two tackles, and forced an incompletion on a corner blitz. One of his shining moments in his college career came against UCLA his freshman year. UCLA was driving down the field and needed a field goal to tie. On third and long they tested Carter over the middle only for him to come crashing down on the ball to force an incompletion. They proceeded to win the game and the Pac-12 Championship as a result. This type of clutch game ending play is exactly what the Lions were lacking in prior seasons. They had a problem with finishing games and lost countless heartbreakers in the 4th quarter. The Lions have been searching for players they call “finishers” and Alex Carter fits the bill perfectly.
The Bottom Line
Alex Carter fits the Lions profile at corner perfectly. He has the size, character, cover skills, and the “finisher” quality the Lions seek. Barring an unexpected injury, Carter will essentially redshirt his first year in the NFL. He needs to improve his technique in press coverage and work on his footwork during comeback and inside breaking routes. With the proper coaching he is the number one option to replace Rashean Mathis when he retires. He has all the tools necessary to be a successful cornerback in the NFL.