Secret Superstar: Bruce Carter

Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter is poised to breakout in Dallas' new scheme. PFF's Steve Palazzolo highlights his play as a Secret Superstar.

| 4 years ago

Secret Superstar: Bruce Carter

Perhaps he’s more well-known than some of his fellow Secret Superstars, but linebacker Bruce Carter is still far from a household name, though he could be on his way in the Dallas Cowboys’ new defensive scheme.

The hiring of Monte Kiffin to run the defense has Dallas moving to a 4-3 and it may be a perfect transition for Carter. There have already been numerous comparisons to former Kiffin outside linebacker Derrick Brooks with whom Carter compares favorably with regard to athleticism. Brooks is universally acknowledged as the quintessential weakside linebacker, a position he made famous while playing in Kiffin’s scheme, and Carter appears to be next in line to take a shot as the chase-and-run linebacker in the Tampa-2 system.

Second Round Risk

Carter’s senior season of college was cut short by an ACL injury and the timing of the mishap forced him to miss the offseason activities leading up to the 2011 draft. The Cowboys still selected him in the second round with the 40th overall pick, though the choice raised more than a few eyebrows. The injury wasn’t the only concern as many analysts questioned the scheme fit in the Cowboys’ 3-4 defense.

Most analysts expect 3-4 inside linebackers to look like the old 6-foot-3, 250-pound Bill Belichick/Bill Parcells prototype, but even with the differences in defensive schemes being blurred on a yearly basis, Carter was written off as a bad fit because of his 6-foot-1, 233-pound frame. In addition to the size issues, Carter was already garnering comparisons to Brooks during the draft process as he reportedly ran  in the 4.4-range before his injury and he was expected to be snatched up by a 4-3 team ready to play him on the weak side.

The Cowboys assumed the risk by taking Carter a round earlier than many projections,  but after not seeing action until Week 9, Carter graded at -2.1 on only 41 insignificant snaps during his rookie season as the pre-draft concerns appeared to be warranted.

Emerging in Year 2

Despite his inexperience and an apparent round-peg, square-hole situation, it was a solid, yet unspectacular year for Carter who started out strong by grading at +2.5 over his first three games. He finished at +3.5 overall for the season including +3.6 against the run and +0.7 in coverage. Unfortunately, Carter battled the injury bug once again and his year was cut short after Week 12.

Perhaps Carter’s biggest contribution to the Dallas defense was his tackling ability as he finished fifth among inside linebackers in Tackling Efficiency missing only one out of every 24.3 tackle attempts. His teammate, Sean Lee, finished right above him as the duo paired to form one of the better inside linebacker combinations in the league. Lee went down to injury in Week 7 and Carter was forced to pick up the slack in his absence. He did just that, particularly in coverage as he graded at +4.0 while dropping back in his last five games.

When you add it all up, Carter graded at 15th among inside linebackers which is certainly respectable given his injury history and low expectations heading into 2012.

Breaking Out in Year 3?

Even though Carter makes our Secret Superstar list on the strength of a solid second season, the future could be even brighter. He appears headed to his expected pre-draft home at weakside linebacker in a 4-3 and we may get a chance to see his athleticism and skillset on display under ideal conditions. There’s still a chance that Carter could see time in the middle, but that job is likely better fit for Lee. Carter’s best plays in coverage came in short zones last year and he struggled at times when forced to run down the middle of the field, a necessary requirement to play in the middle in the Tampa-2.

Carter got his hands on two passes last season and both plays should bode well for his role in the new scheme. In Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks, Carter dropped into coverage, read quarterback Russell Wilson’s eyes, and jumped into the passing lane to deflect a slant route to wide receiver Sidney Rice. He had a similar play against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 9 that saw him read the quarterback once again as he deflected a deep crossing route to tight end Tony Gonzalez.

The zone instincts Carter displayed appear to be a perfect match for Kiffin’s system that requires the outside linebackers to excel at reading quarterbacks and taking away the short passing game for opposing offenses. When you add in his tackling ability and speed that should be freed up to make plays, Carter could become a three-down force in Dallas for years to come.


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| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • scottmaui

    Obvious grading systems are somewhat subjective, but Schatz at Football outsiders actually graded Carter with zero broken tackles in 2012, the only qualifying LB not to miss a single tackle according to their grading.

    Either way, he had a very low BT rate last year, and promises to be a heat-seeking missile as the Will in Kiffin’s scheme this season.

    What I love is the way he tackles with such violence, but not just a big hit guy, he wraps up so he’s very secure in his tackles, but he flies to the ball with such speed and then tackles through the ball carrier with force and violence.

  • Jennifer

    Carter produced moderate tackle totals last season, Carter’s worth a late-round look in drafts this summer.

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