The best NFL draft classes are the ones that produce late-round starters who, on draft weekend, no one saw coming. In other words, sleepers. And for the Chicago Bears’ 2022 NFL draft class, the list of potential sleepers who can emerge as first-teamers this fall is long.
The most logical place to look for that guy for the Bears this year is the offensive line, where four picks were used on day three and a starting job remains at right guard. There’s a chance — a pretty god one — that one of these rookies will emerge as that starter, and if there’s one name to circle as a sleeper for that gig, it’s seventh-round pick, Ja’Tyre Carter.
Despite starting 37 games at tackle for Southern, Ja’Tyre Carter is a versatile interior offensive line prospect who worked as both center and guard at the 2022 Senior Bowl. With veteran center Lucas Patrick and sixth-round pick Doug Kramer (Illinois) on the roster, it’s likely Carter will focus on playing guard. And that’s a good thing for both him and the Bears.
Ja’Tyre Carter looks the part despite small-school status
Carter is Southern University’s first draft pick in 18 years who, according to Bears scout Breck Ackley, checks all the boxes.
“At that level, you want to see a guy stand out,” Ackley said. “The first thing you notice is he walks in the room to meet you and he looks the part. That’s kind of step one. [He’s] well put together, looks like an NFL lineman. And just seeing him move. You go to practice and see him move live, that’s the next check box. Then obviously, you turn on the film after that and he’s holding his own. His best game was Troy, so I think that speaks volume. When you’re a guy at that level and they play a high competition, if they can play their best, that usually says a lot. And he checked all of those boxes, so that’s kind of what stood out.”
Carter answered the level of competition questions with his strong Senior Bowl performance, too.
“I went out there and answered a bunch of questions scouts, coaches, and general managers had on me,” Carter told The Draft Network before the 2022 NFL Draft. “I know the league wanted to see if I could handle going against top competition. I held my own. I was very competitive. I had a bunch of fun out there, I soaked up the moment, but I was very competitive at the end of the day. I definitely answered a lot of questions out there. I proved that I could compete with the best of the best. I passed that test with flying colors.”
Carter was one of the best pass-blockers in the country in 2021, according to Pro Football Focus analytics. He earned a 93.2 pass-blocking grade in 2021 and allowed only two pressures on 341 passing reps. His ridiculously efficient 2021 season wasn’t an anomaly, either. He allowed only two pressures in 2020 and scored an 86.4 grade. His productive showing in Mobile shouldn’t have been a surprise.
“I was actually on the field right off the bat, and they go right to one-on-ones,” Ackley said of Carter’s Senior Bowl practices. “That’s kinda the highlight for O and D line. You wanna see ‘em and right off the bat, I believe it was Oklahoma guy he lined up against, so I’m kinda back there standing by the goalpost going, ‘Here we go. Baptism by fire.’ And he gave a little ground, kinda sat on it, then when he came out of the rep he almost bought back a little bit.
“It was almost like he, himself, realized, ‘I can hang.’ After that, every other rep, he battled and held his own. There’s gonna be some losses, right. I mean everybody there goes up and down, but he just kept showing up and held his own. That’s probably what stood out, I was excited to see him battle and kind of realize he could play at that level.”
Can Ja’Tyre Carter be the Bears’ next late-round starter?
The Bears have been dinged by football media for not investing earlier picks on offensive linemen with a higher pedigree, but good players can be found from every level and every school, including Southern.
“I don’t really think about it,” Carter told TDN about being a small-school player. “People will always have an opinion. I just take things as they come. I don’t really listen to the outside noise. I don’t let it bother me. I keep playing football at the end of the day. I know scouts were thrilled with my performance at my Pro Day, and they were thrilled with the Senior Bowl as well. I’ll continue showing everybody what small school guys can do.”
Carter, like any of the Bears’ day-three offensive linemen, could very well become the next Charles Leno Jr. Leno was drafted in the seventh round (No. 246) in the 2014 NFL Draft and became a full-time starter by Week 4 of the 2015 season. Leno played seven years in Chicago and started 94 games, primarily at left tackle.
The Chicago Bears training camp and preseason will be more entertaining than usual this year. Starting jobs are up for grabs, and hungry under-the-radar rookies will be battling for them. Carter is one of those guys, and if his play continues rising with the level of competition, the Bears may just have their next diamond in the rough.