In my latest Bets for Breakout piece, I revert back to the LB position after going with a cornerback in my last piece. This series of articles look at those IDPs that are poised for a breakout season in the 2012 season, much like Navorro Bowman in 2011. I’ve looked at Kelvin Sheppard, Colin McCarthy and KJ Wright in previous articles, but with this one, I’ve had an on and off again relationship with this guy as I’ve had no idea what to make of him until recently. I’ve started a breakout piece, only to go in the opposite direction and start an avoid piece. Well, I’m confident enough to say that I like this particular second year linebacker’s chances at productive season. With that said, I look at Bruce Carter, ILB of the Dallas Cowboys.
Carter was drafted 40th overall and the Cowboys looked at Carter as their LB of the future, someone that could replace Keith Brooking and share snaps with Bradie James while grooming Sean Lee. Carter has athleticism and has good instincts to get to the football and his speed makes him an asset in the run game. The knocks on him were his inability to get off the blockers, so size was an issue. There were worries about his torn ACL that he suffered in November 2010, but because of the injury, he was unable to make much of an impact for the Cowboy defense as he played mostly special teams while he was getting up to speed, learning the 3-4 defense.
Unfortunately for Carter, he didn’t really have much of a rookie year, only appearing in 41 total defensive snaps, so not too much to go on. The Cowboys, at the end of the 2011 season, were talking about him being a starter in the 2012 season, since there would be an offseason and he’d be fully recovered from his ACL issues. Not only that, Brooking and James were no longer in the picture. Brooking has hit free agency, yet to sign, while James has caught on with the Texans. Things were looking good for Carter’s IDP prospects.
That is until free agency started in March when the Cowboys signed former Panther LB, Dan Connor. Connor was coming off a decent 2011 season, grading out at a +4.9 overall and +8.2 in run defense. From an IDP standpoint, he produced 66 tackles on just 477 snaps, good for a 13.8% tackle per snap frequency, and was brought in to compete with Carter. Connor has always been a solid run thumper, but was a liability in the passing game, coming off on passing downs, while grading at a -2.5 grade (allowing 10 catches on 12 targets) this past campaign. Not only that, he has not always been thought of as the picture of health, turning in only one full season of 16 games. As recently as June, however, Connor was expected to be the early down run stopper with him being replaced by Carter in nickel packages. So with no clear target, it was shaping up to be a situation to avoid in most IDP formats because of the rotation.
So, what’s changed?
Carter has scratched and clawed his way through camp and has earned the recognition from the Cowboy staff. Carter now is thought to have the inside track at the starting ‘TED’ spot, opposite MIKE Sean Lee. Carter has an edge over Connor because of his abilities in pass coverage and the Cowboys want to see what he can do if given the opportunity. With missing 10 games, he’ll be given every chance to prove his worth now that he’ll have a full offseason to get accustomed to the defense and really learn and get to know the system.
At the worst, he’ll open the season as the nickel ‘backer, but could overtake Connor and get the nod for every down work sooner than later. He’s an intriguing dynasty prospect if he’s not already on a team. So with training camps set to open next week, this is going to be one battle to watch, just because of the upside of tackle numbers playing alongside Lee, as he’s going to garner much more attention after a strong 2011 season. In projecting his stats for 2012, I’m going under the assumption that he’s going to be the starter this season:
As I said, with projecting his stats, I think he’s going to get the majority of the snaps and I really like the upside this year. He’s going to someone off the radar in redraft leagues, so you might be able to take a flier on him in the last rounds of your draft or grab him from the wire at the beginning of the season. Keep Carter in the back of your mind when creating those cheat sheets.