Jalen Carter and former Georgia teammates are transforming the Eagles

A consistent refrain has echoed through nearly every conversation about polarizing Georgia pass rushing prospect Jalen Carter heading into April’s draft. Even as Carter’s legal troubles mounted, scouting directors, area scouts, general managers and plug-in coaches all expressed some variation of this theory:

No matter how low you think Carter might fall, if you want him, you better be ahead of the Eagles. Because he can’t get past Howie Roseman.

Not only did Carter fall out of the top 10, but Roseman, the Eagles’ general manager, moved up one spot to ninth overall to ensure he could land the talented but mercurial defensive lineman. Even at the height of the summer season, this always passed the sniff test. Roseman believes in building a roster from the inside out – by stocking up on both sides of the line – and his preference for Georgia defenders has already been known in scouting circles. The Eagles spent as much time scouting and watching the Bulldogs as anyone in the NFL; Roseman once again had a surplus of first-round draft picks to help him maneuver; and the pick allowed him to slot Carter alongside 2022 first-round pick Jordan Davis, a mammoth run-stuffer who was very close to Carter on Georgia’s 2021 national championship-winning defense.

The trend turned out to extend beyond Carter, as Roseman also selected Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith at No. 30 overall and then added Georgia corner Kelee Ringo in the fourth round. This after snagging Davis and his Georgia teammate Nakobe Dean (83rd overall) last year. The Eagles’ 53-man roster consists of 27 defensive players, and nearly 20 percent of them are Bulldogs entering their rookie year or second season (all 23 or younger). Of the 16 players in the top seven, a quarter played together at Georgia.

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That’s not a coincidence. Roseman is betting that her excellence at the highest level of college football will carry over to the NFL, upsetting a defense that fell short in the Super Bowl. Their connections, friendships and football practice together in Athens should accelerate their impact, and if the Eagles want to repeat as NFC champions – and don’t bet against them – the Bulldog Bunch could be a deciding factor.

“This is not a coincidence, no,” said an Eagles employee who was involved in the draft process and is not allowed to speak freely about it for competitive reasons. “But it’s not like we just had a plan to catch them all. That’s not how the design works. But this defense has been incredibly good and incredibly deep for a few years now, and we’ve spent a lot of time at school watching them play. And you watch one kid, and then another kid shows up, and you see the next wave coming for the next draft.

“You do the work, go to school and get a feel for how good they really are. Honestly, it becomes one-stop shopping. Why don’t you want to bring some of it here?”

Davis was on something of a pitch count last year, with the Eagles setting sack records and boasting arguably the deepest defensive line in the NFL. Philadelphia often had a big lead at halftime, making a race moot. Davis, who Roseman passed on to the Ravens by going 13th in the 2022 draft, is expected to be more influential this year. And he is known to have had a calming influence on Carter, who left a contradictory legacy in Athens. Many still considered him the best player in the draft – filling the void left by departing star Javon Hargrave – and seasoned veterans like Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham should be excellent role models who can also dish out tough love when needed.

“We have a really good support team,” Roseman said shortly after selecting Carter. “We have really good players who are good people. We have really good coaches. We felt like it was a good fit for us.”

Dean is now the central nervous system of the unit as the starting middle linebacker, and his countless hours of practice, play-reading and acclimation to the two tackles in front of him are another potential boon. Smith immediately fits into fast “NASCAR” pass rushing packages, and Ringo is already earning high marks internally as a depth corner.

“The [Georgia] Linebackers already know what that is [Georgia] Linemen do it in front of them,” the Eagles official said. “This understanding already exists. That trust is already there.”

Carter was a downright destructive force in very brief preseason cameos, and executives and scouts I chat with consider him a leading candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year, especially with such a talented cast around him. He seemed extremely motivated to the Eagles coaches. You have to make sure it stays that way.

“Howie has derailed the last two drafts,” one AFC general manager said on condition of anonymity because he doesn’t publicly discuss rivals’ rosters. “The Georgia kids will come along quickly.” A longtime NFL scout and executive who has faced similar restrictions said, “I want so many [Bulldogs] I could get my hands on it. Howie isn’t stupid. The ’21st [Georgia] “The defense was like the 1986 Bears. Total domination.” And as another GM pointed out, there was an urgency to capitalize on this phenomenon now, since we may never see a collection of talent on one side of the ball again holds together for so long.

“If the NIL and portal stuff really worked [in 2021]” said the GM, “Texas would offer Carter $10 million to move his sophomore year if he is still stuck in a rotation at Georgia.”

The initial tests for this group will be more demanding than the SEC’s, but lukewarm by NFL standards. In the first six weeks. the Eagles face a Patriots team lacking quality players; the Vikings without Dalvin Cook; Baker Mayfield’s latest redemptive start in Tampa; Sam Howell and Company; a Rams team lacking an offensive line; and whatever Aaron Rodgers has left as the low-scoring Jets run the gauntlet to start the season. By then, the Bulldog Bunch could be taking over the games, and the Eagles may be in danger of being the NFL’s last undefeated team two years in a row.

“The fascinating thing for us is that we know that every player has a certain learning curve and has to adapt to that level,” the Eagles employee said. “But they’ve been through this together from high school through college. And the more comfortable you are in your surroundings and the better you know the people around you, the more likely you are to adapt and find your way. They are not as concerned about what they are doing and how they are adapting. You already have a social network here. We think this should really help them.”

Good luck to opposing quarterbacks if that’s the case.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2023/09/09/eagles-defense-jalen-carter-georgia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_homepage Jalen Carter and former Georgia teammates are transforming the Eagles

Ian Walker

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