Written by Kip Earlywine
Tank Carder played middle linebacker in TCU’s 4-2-5 defense. Carder was voted an All American by ESPN and the AFCA in 2010. In 2011, Carder was a consensus All American.
Defensive coordinators at both the NFL and college levels are beginning to lean towards nickle defenses as a base defense due to the advent of the elite pass catching TEs we’ve seen the last few years. TCU is one such team that has already gone there. Because of this unconventional base scheme, TCU used Carder in a very aggressive role that had him attacking the line of scrimmage very often as opposed to a more typical 4-3 Mike who lets the play come to him most of the time and acts as the second level’s safety net. The result of using Carder so aggressively was fewer tackles but a greater number of big plays.
There is a lot to like about Tank Carder, and if not for the unconventional role he played in college I’d wonder why so many experts have Carder in the 4th or 5th round. Carder’s forty time is average, but his field speed is better than average. His vertical jump is average, but his short area quickness is one of his biggest strengths. Carder’s 1.57 ten yard split is very close to the numbers put up by Mychal Kendricks or Zach Brown. Carder’s 6.89 three cone drill is also one of the fastest among all linebackers. On tape, I thought he looked every bit as quick as those measurements would indicate. He has very quick feet and can drop his hips and accelerate as fast as any linebacker in the draft. He also really impressed me with his stop and go agility. Its very hard to run by Carder in the open field because he breaks down with his lower body so well.
TCU used Carder as an attacking linebacker which is smart because like Aaron Curry, Carder is at his best when he’s allowed to be aggressive. And while I know its tempting to assume any comparison to Curry is a bad thing, it’s not. There were certainly some areas where Curry had a lot of ability, he just couldn’t overcome some weaknesses that cancelled out his strengths. Carder is a natural downhill linebacker and he could probably play any of the linebacker spots if he added weight.
Carder is a fun player to watch and in particular I love watching him lay out on a tackle or a sack, which he does several times a game. Carder may not have the strongest upper body, but he knows how to explode into a tackle. On the downside, he dives after tackles a bit too much for my liking, and I’ve also noticed that he tends to leave his feet sometimes and forgets to drive his legs through the tackle. There are also times where he goes for the hit and sometimes forgets to wrap up, but when he does hit, they can be quite spectacular (check out the Wisconsin video at the 3:30 mark).
Only a week younger than Demario Davis, Carder also has the “old” prospect label. It’s nothing worth holding against him as a prospect, but he’ll have fewer years before his 30th birthday than most other prospects, which diminishes his total value slightly.
I only have one significant concern with Carder, and that is his ability to give run support. A couple times a game he’ll let a runner escape untouched through his gap. Carder also needs to refine his tackling as he’s currently relying on the big hit too much and doesn’t wrap and drive consistently. He’s also disturbingly prone to being blocked out of plays. For as hard as he can hit, he gets pushed out of a lane in a hurry.
I don’t want to get into a guessing game about what Seattle’s 2012 defensive scheme will look like, because I’m not an X’s and O’s guy, but I can tell you this: I think Seattle’s defensive scheme will probably make a major shift of some sort next year. Why do I think this? First, I think this because Rob and I have it on good authority that the team has some interest in Courtney Upshaw and Melvin Ingram, and there is almost no way you could pencil in a guy like that on 2011′s defense without changing the scheme in some way to make it work. Second, we know that Seattle wants to “get faster” at linebacker even though their previous three linebackers had decent speed (when healthy).
I think when Pete Carroll says he wants to get faster at linebacker, he’s telling the truth, but that lesser truth serves to disguise a greater truth, which is that Pete is looking for a fundamentally new kind of linebacker corps with completely different skill sets- just like how TCU’s linebacker corps are very different from most 4-3 teams. David Hawthorne was PFF‘s #2 free agent inside linebacker this year, and Seattle (who had plenty of money) barely even tried to retain him. When a team lets a good player go when they could have very easily retained that player, that is often a sign that the team has something new in mind scheme wise.
My hunch is that Seattle will prefer a “safety net” middle linebacker who can cover a lot of ground, which would make Zach Brown and Bobby Wagner prime candidates in round two. Carder is good in coverage- zone coverage- because he reads quarterbacks well and has the acceleration to jump routes. If Seattle is looking for that kind of middle linebacker, then Carder could be a great value in the mid rounds for Seattle.
I don’t know if Carder fits what Seattle wants, but he’s a player I really like. His upside is pretty close to Lofa Tatupu, and his downside is pretty close to Matt McCoy. I think at the least, Carder will be a good special teams player and backup inside linebacker. Depending on what Pete envisions for the middle linebacker role, Carder could make a lot of sense for Seattle in rounds four or five.