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NFL Draft film room: Barrett Carter, a tight end’s worst nightmare

Clemson LB is good against TEs in coverage and the ground game

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Louisville v Clemson
Barrett Carter
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Clemson linebacker Barrett Carter may not be heading into the fall as a projected first-round pick, ranking 47th on Pro Football Focus’ summer big board. However, he could certainly make a significant impact on a team like the Las Vegas Raiders that need linebacker help but might be looking elsewhere—like at quarterback—on Day 1 of the draft.

Barrett is an athletic linebacker who stood out to me the most in coverage where his movement skills paired with his route-recognition helped him earn a 77.4 PFF coverage grade last season. The Tiger also ranked tied for sixth among FBS linebackers with 20 defensive stops in coverage, one more than Jack Campbell, the first backer taken off the board last April.

Primarily lining up as the SAM backer for Clemson last year, Barrett became a tight end’s worst nightmare. As mentioned above, his athletic ability allows him to man up against the position and he’s often able to win at the point of attack in the ground game, as we’ll see in the clips below.

In this first play, Barrett is lined up over the slot receiver as Tennesse splits their tight end out wide. The Volunteers have their receivers switch release off the line of scrimmage and the Tigers are playing Cover 1, meaning Barrett has to navigate the traffic and avoid getting picked.

His spacing and movement skills allow him to swerve contact with the cornerback while still being in a position to cover his man. When the tight end sits on the curl route, the linebacker is able to drop his hips and change direction, leaving little to no room for separation. That puts Barrett in a perfect position to contest the catch and get his hand in the passing lane to force an incompletion and get a pass breakup.

This is a good example of him combining his athletic ability with his football IQ as he’s able to recognize what the offense is trying to do—pick him—and has the movement skills to counter and win.

Here, we’ll see an example of the Clemson product setting the edge versus the run as Florida State calls mid-zone. With the defense in an under front and slanting the defensive line weak, the running back’s initial aiming point (the B-gap) is taken away so he decides to bounce it outside.

However, Barrett does an excellent job of coming downhill and being physical with the tight end. He also uses his hands to take on the block and has enough strength to get extension against the tight end, allowing him to escape and show color to the outside. He’s effectively set the edge as the running back has to cut back inside and into the teeth of the defense.

This isn’t a play that will show up in the stat sheet for Barrett, but he’s the reason this is a tackle for loss and not a five- or more-yard gain.

While Barrett might not be strong enough to take blocks from offensive linemen head-on, he has shown the ability to use his speed and a shoulder dip to defeat blocks in the trenches.

Tennessee runs inside split zone where the center and right guard are responsible for the nose tackle and Barrett. Post-snap, Clemson has their nose slant into the weak A-gap and the center turns his shoulders to follow the nose. Barrett sees that and immediately knows he can shoot the strong side A-gap.

The center has to come off of his first-level block to pick up the crashing backer, and Barrett’s speed allows him to beat the center to the spot. Since the blocker is late, he has no choice but to hold. However, Barrett also uses a good rip move to get off the block and go make the tackle outside of his gap for a short gain.

This next clip really just highlights Barrett’s movement skills.

It’s third and forever as Clemson lines up in a double A-gap or double mug look, putting our subject on the line of scrimmage. He takes a jab step initially to give the illusion he’s blitzing and mess with the offensive line’s protection scheme. Then, he changes direction to drop and get to his landmark in coverage, only to see the quarterback scrambling and have to change directions once again before closing and getting the sack.

What might be the most impressive aspect of this clip is it just looks effortless for Barrett, and movement skills like this will certainly help him transition to the next level.

The other intriguing part about Barrett’s game is he can add value as a pass-rusher after racking up 27 pressures and 5.5 sacks on 100 opportunities last season. In the rep above, the ball is out too quickly for him to add to that stat line, but he still finds a way to affect the passing game by batting a pass down at the line of scrimmage.

When he blitzes, watch how he keeps his feet moving through contact and gets his hands inside the guard’s to win at the point of attack. That, plus the momentum Barrett built up coming downhill, puts the guard on the ground and frees up Barrett to make the play. This is also an encouraging sign that he can grow this season in his ability to take on blocks from offensive linemen as a run defender.