Where some scouts see a tweener, Mike Martz sees a matchup problem. Check that. In the right hands, Martz says, Cethan Carter has the goods to be a matchup nightmare.
“He really is an unusual receiver at that position,” the ex-NFL coach and longtime offensive coordinator said of Carter, the former Nebraska Cornhuskers tight end and now draft hopeful.
“He’s got length. He’s got juice to get upfield. He’s got speed — not just real speed, he can change direction. Not quite like a wide receiver, but you can certainly space him out on his own at wideout, and he’d do extremely well.”
Martz, architect of the “Greatest Show On Turf” attack that powered the Rams to four playoff berths, two Super Bowl appearances and one Lombardi Trophy between 1999 and 2005, got to work with the Huskers receiver up close during practices for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl last month in Southern California. Carter was one of three tight ends on Martz’s National Team roster, snagging 2 passes for 23 yards in a 27-7 win on Jan. 21.
“I was just amazed at his development, but more importantly, his inline blocking — obviously, in college, they don’t do a whole lot of that anymore,” Martz said. “He was exceptional. The athleticism. The toughness. He wants to stick his nose in there as an inline blocker. You can move him, but he’ll get up the field inside against linebackers like nobody’s business. He’s a smart guy.”
He’s a grinder, a trait that sat well with players and scouts alike. The Louisiana native was selected as one of the National team captains by the coaching staff on the recommendation of his peers.
— Anthony Becht (@Anthony_Becht) January 20, 2017
“He was probably one of our more popular guys,” Martz said. “And, really, just his practice habits — we wanted captains who exhibited what you’re looking for in terms of work ethic and attitude, and he certainly had all that stuff. There are no chinks in his armor.”
As one of two Huskers invited to the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, what was once a cult following for Carter’s upside — 6-foot-4 guys with soft hands who run a 4.6 in the 40 are rare beasts — is starting to filter into the mainstream:
Watching TE Cethan Carter, Not flashy but versatile skill set. Very good blocker for his size, can make plays in space too. I’m intrigued
— Sean Cottrell (@PhllyDraft) February 9, 2017
— Nova-Kane (@DustynBehm) February 21, 2017
Cethan Carter #11. Nice sustained block. pic.twitter.com/DGipdqs70b
— Jared Stanger (@JaredStanger) February 21, 2017
“I never doubted that I couldn’t compete with anyone,” said Carter, who caught 19 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown and added 3 carries for 34 yards his senior season. “It was a good experience getting to go against a lot of guys that had come from different schools and conferences that I’d never played against, the top talent in that conference. It was a good deal.”
Even better: Former NFL tight end and current television analyst Anthony Becht was his position coach for the NFLPA experience, giving Carter a chance to pick the brain of someone who carved a steady niche in the league for more than a decade.
“He coached us all the same; he coached us hard,” Carter said. “I knew what I was getting out of him after the first day there, after the first practice. He taught me a lot of things in that short amount of time. (He said), ‘You’ve got to practice like a pro now.’ We’re not college athletes anymore, we’re pros.
“He played 12 years (in the NFL). (He said) the key thing, why he stayed in the league so long, was his technique and his blocking. That can take you a long way in the NFL.”
But Carter knows that if he wants to go a long way, he’s going to have to master the short stuff — the little things — first.
“Sometimes, I can be a little anxious on flying off the ball,” Carter said. “And my footwork can be all over the place. I’m just practicing the technique. My main focus is just (improving) it and putting in the work.”
Studying #Nebraska TE Cethan Carter. He’s going to be blown away catching passes in the NFL. He doesn’t know what an accurate QB looks like.
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 18, 2017
At 240 pounds, and a lean 240, Carter has a slighter, taller frame than the prototypical NFL tight end. But Becht came away impressed with the kid’s willingness to muck it up in the box, damn the consequences, despite a Huskers tenure marred by foot problems and, in 2016, a nagging left elbow.
“He can really stretch the field in the passing game. And, I think, he’s got really good hands.” Becht told Land of 10. “The one question mark about his size, will he be physical at the point of attack? I think in the slot and off the line … he does a nice job.
“He wants to do it and wants to get better at it. He listened to everything I said, too. That’s somebody who is going to improve at the next level.”
Like Martz, Becht sees a matchup problem, too — a tall target who can outrun linebackers and post up boundary cornerbacks on jump balls.
Think Washington Redskins TE Jordan Reed. Only taller.
“The type of guy, when you talk about just the football skill set, he kind of has that quick twitch to him and that physicality,” Becht said. “I think he’s a (very) physical player in terms of blockers and inline guys.
“He brings a lot to the table. He did a little bit of fullback stuff, sticking his face in there. He has a lot of growth, a lot to learn, but listen: There are a lot of tight ends right now I’ve evaluated that are maybe top-tier guys that lack that aggressiveness he has. He brings an aggression that a lot of teams will like.”
Aggression and a lunch pail. A sleeper who’s going to keep defensive coordinators awake at night. Eventually.
“Whether I get drafted or not, all I can do is bust my ass every day, show up every day,” Carter said. “And if I get drafted, great. And if I don’t, just continue to bust my ass.
“Control the things you can control. I can’t control if I was hurt (or) something in a certain play. The only thing I could control was play as hard as I could. I wish a lot of injuries wouldn’t have happened. But I can’t move on tomorrow thinking about what things are in the past.”