It happens every year. Some player shows out in the preseason, nevertheless, the Baltimore Ravens decide against keeping him on their final 53-man regular season roster. Ravens fans bemoan the decision, yet the training camp darling never amounts to much in the NFL. Terrance Magee, Brennan Beyer, Matt Furstenburg, Bobby Rainey, Omar Brown, Justin Harper, Dwayne Missouri, the list goes on and on and on. This summer, Chris Carter fits the mold.
Carter is an outside linebacker with five seasons of professional experience under his belt, including two games for the Ravens last season. Through 75 games in the NFL, including games played for the Steelers and Bengals, Carter has amassed 29 total tackles without recording a sack. Standing at 6’1", Carter lacks ideal length to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 formation. However, this did not prevent him from shining in the Ravens first preseason game this year.
Against the Panthers in last week’s preseason opener, Carter made a strong case to be considered for a roster spot. He posted two tackles, three quarterback hits and half a sack, proving difficult to block off the edge. However, Carter did most of his damage against Carolina’s second and third string offensive line late in the contest. He also missed an opportunity to pad his sack total, allowing backup quarterback Joe Webb to escape from his grasp on one play.
Composing a final roster is a balancing act. The coaches and front office are often forced to choose between a marginally better veteran player and a younger player with unrealized potential that could boost the team down the road. Carter is 27 years old and competing with 2015 fourth round draft pick Za’Darius Smith, rookie fifth rounder Matt Judon, promising undrafted rookie Victor Ochi, and special teams ace Albert McClellan for three likely roster spots. With starting outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil entering their mid-30's, the Ravens need to have a succession plan in place for the 2017 and 2018 seasons at this crucial position.
Working in Carter’s favor is his special teams' ability. The Ravens value special teams as much or more than any other team in the league. Continuing to chase his dream after bouncing around the league indicates that Carter has a strong work ethic, another plus for a team that prioritizes character. Still, Carter faces an uphill battle to earn a place on the Ravens regular season roster.
The first preseason game was definitely a step in the right direction for Chris Carter. Still, he needs to show consistent playmaking ability against NFL caliber players over the three remaining preseason games to have a chance at cracking the roster. The Ravens roster crunch is expected to be tighter than ever with more skill position players projected to make the team than usual.
Late bloomers contribute to teams all across the league and Carter could be a nice complimentary player for the Ravens. Still, the opportunity may not be there for him this year, the numbers are stacked against him. If the Ravens do choose to retain another outside linebacker instead of Carter, Ravens fans should trust the team’s track record in evaluating past preseason darlings.