I have a confession to make: When legendary writer Peter King speaks, I tend to listen.
Simply put, I am a huge fan of the man. I grew up reading his work in multiple sports publications, long before even contemplating trying to follow in his hallowed footsteps in some miniscule way. I always admired his willingness to share his own personal observations, even if those insights didn't always fit with public opinion or professional consensus.
King doesn't plagiarize other professional evaluations, he shares his own. Even when his opinions go against the grain, and general consensus.
King was back to his antagonist ways in a recent pre-draft article, where he stated in no uncertain terms that the Steelers were indeed interested in trading up into the Top 10 of the 2023 NFL Draft to select former Georgia Bulldogs DE Jalen Carter.
The mere suggestion was definitely controversial in my opinion honestly, because I had already taken the talented but troubled defensive lineman off my first round draft board for the Steelers. Out of shear respect for King, and the multitude of personal relationships that he has developed with NFL executives across the league over the decades, I decide to reconsider the possibility.
Jalen Carter is arguably the most talented prospect in this draft class. Without the well documented off the field issues, Carter would have been considered the favorite to be the first overall selection. Unlike the other top candidates, Carter has zero questions athletically. Ideal combination of size, speed, and explosiveness for the position. He was a defensive stalwart on two national championship teams, so the pedigree is there. On the field, Carter looked like the best defensive lineman in college football, and easily the best in the 2023 draft class.
However, off the field is another story. The tragic street racing incident that claimed two young lives, plus the decision to leave the scene of the accident, raises numerous red flags. At the very least, questionable decision making. Maturity is the most frequent issue mentioned in his evaluations.
Showing up to his pro day unprepared and out of shape suggest a questionable work ethic. The decision to refuse any official pre-draft visits outside the Top 10 seems to suggest a concerning level of arrogance, and a lack of self-awareness. Many franchises tend to shy away from players with questionable character concerns. I wholeheartedly believe that the Steelers are one such franchise.
For what it's worth, Georgia HC Kirby Smart has spoken out recently on Carter's behalf. Smart praised Carter as both a player and teammate, implying that his teammates loved playing with him, but who doesn't love having the most talented player on the field as a teammate. Especially when the end result is being part of national championship teams, and the legacy that goes with the accomplishments.
King's suggestive article creates a dilemma for yours truly. King is a living legend, who has no need to fabricate rumors necessary for a click bait article. Therefore, I can only assume that King actually has inside information provided by the Steelers front office. The recent rumor about the Steelers enquiring with the Chicago Bears about the ninth overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft would appear to lend credence to the Jalen Carter possibility.
Actually, the Steelers drafting Carter makes perfect sense, beyond the off the field issues. Carter is the type of generational talent that could anchor the Steelers defense for years, long after current defensive leader Cameron Heyward has hung up the cleats. Heyward is closer to the end than he is the beginning, and it's about time that the Steelers acquire another young stud defensive lineman that Heyward can mentor on what it means to be both a professional, and a Pittsburgh Steeler.
Heyward has so much knowledge to give, but he needs a talented prospect to share it with. Heyward could teach Carter the ins and outs of playing the position, DL Coach Karl Dunbar could clean up the fundamentals and enhance the production, and Head Coach Mike Tomlin could provide the father figure like presence that so many young professionals desperately need.
Lastly, trading up for Carter could be the high risk high reward type scenario for the Steelers that I have mentioned numerous times in my offseason articles. At some point in the Steelers current rebuild, the front office will be forced to leave their comfort zone to get over the proverbial hump, from perpetual winner to true championship contender. Something that former Steelers GM Kevin Colbert was unfortunately unable or unwilling to do during the Killer B's era.
If the Steelers are really serious about going from pretender to contender, then a player of Jalen Carter's caliber just might be the missing piece to the Steelers championship puzzle, but only after some serious due diligence from Omar Khan and company.