Former Alabama DB trying to turn NFL heads amid COVID-19 complications
After starting the last two seasons at the Star position in Alabama’s nickel defense, Shyheim Carter spent the past few months preparing to show NFL teams parts of his game they haven’t seen before. For the former Crimson Tide defensive back, that meant dropping a few pounds while targeting a time in the 4.3 range in the 40-yard dash.
That head-turning reveal was supposed to occur in February during the NFL Combine before a slight hamstring strain delayed Carters’ plans until Alabama’s previously scheduled pro day in March. Following the recent COVID-19 outbreak, he will now need to rely on other means to demonstrate his next-level speed.
“He was going to kill pro day, I promise,” said Vincent Sanders, who has served as a mentor to Carter since his high school days. “People were going to be like, ‘What in the hell?’ Man, he looks so good. He’s so in shape, and he locked that 40-start down. Ugh, we were going to murder that. I promise you after pro day, he would have been all over ESPN.”
Added Carter: “I definitely wanted to show that in the combine, but with my hamstring the way it was, it just wasn’t the right time to do it. Now we just have to wait and see how everything works out.”
Since finishing his senior season in the Citrus Bowl in January, Carter has remained in Florida, training in Tampa with Yo Murphy, who helped Alabama receiver Henry Ruggs III clock a combine-best 4.27 time in the 40-yard dash this year.
Upon receiving Carter as a client, Murphy said he had heard from a few scouts and organizations who viewed the defensive back as a player who was good in short spaces but lacked top-end speed. After working with Carter the past few months, Murphy says that certainly isn’t the case.
“Shy can run, it’s just everything about him has been turnover,” Murphy explained. “He tries to get to a speed as fast as he possibly can, and he hasn’t used a lot of force. That’s what we’ve been working on him with.”
Playing the Star position at Alabama, Carter routinely flashed his elite quickness, chasing down speedy receivers in the slot. It’s what helped the 5-foot-10, 185-pound defensive back record back-to-back 40-tackle seasons along with a combined 17 pass deflections the past two years. However, Murphy’s goal is to convert that initial quickness into a more powerful stride that should see Carter open up some eyes.
“He’s made a lot of progress,” Murphy said. “The thing with Shy is he’s a student in life. He really wants to get better. He wants to learn. He’s always going to be there. I’ve told some of the vets, ‘Shy’s my intern.' He’ll come and work out at 6 a.m., and he’ll be there all day doing stuff, just watching, listening. When you can put a guy with his physical abilities with that mindset, the sky’s the limit.”
Carter’s interest in getting faster comes as he is looking to prove to NFL teams that he can switch outside to cornerback, the position he says he feels the most at home at. According to Pro Football Focus, Carter spent 559 snaps at slot corner last season while seeing only five at the wide cornerback position.
“Wherever a team needs me, that’s the position I’ll play, but I definitely think people forgot that I can play outside corner just as well as I can play safety or nickel,” Carter said. “I just feel like (corner) is what I’m best at. I feel like I can play any position, but I feel like I’m best at the corner position. Just my mentality, like I know that I can cover. Anybody that lines up against me, I know I can cover them.”
Even if Carter is able to run a 40 time indicative of keeping up with vertical threats on the perimeter, there’s now the matter of proving that time to NFL scouts. That has become increasingly difficult due to the complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Carter was supposed to hold a pro day this past Wednesday but had to reschedule after the city closed down the field the event was going to be held at. Murphy is optimistic he will be able to schedule another pro day in 12-14 days.
From there, the next step would be finding a way to verify any results to NFL scouts. Without the opportunity to perform live in front of evaluators, NFL teams are advising players to live stream their pro days to ensure accuracy. Murphy said he is also working on getting former NFL scouts to attend the event in order to serve as liaisons to teams.
“We have a group that we’re working with that are providing us with scouts that used to be in the game,” he said. “We have a couple of guys who used to be pro personnel guys that have been doing it for a lot of years, so NFL teams respect and know them and trust them with getting the correct times.”
That being said, Carter’s agent, Jovan Barnes, said most NFL teams he’s talked to are prioritizing game film and positional drills over 40 times.
After undergoing a sports hernia surgery last spring, Carter saw a slight drop-off in production last year following a 2018 season in which he finished tied for the team’s highest defensive back, earning an 88.4 grade from Pro Football Focus. Still, during his two years as a starter, he was able to demonstrate great football IQ and versatility — two traits NFL teams covet.
“I think Shyheim Carter would fit in probably one of the top two or three players on the team from a knowledge standpoint,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said last fall. "He can answer every question in a meeting about every position. He would be a great, great coach. I think that’s what creates a lot of diversity for him as a player, to be able to play multiple positions because he’s very smart and it means something to him. He’s spent a lot of time trying to learn this stuff. He prepares well for the games. I can’t say that one position is more natural for him than the other because he’s always done a pretty good job wherever we’ve decided to put him in.”
The other feather in Carters’ hat comes in his off-the-field intangibles. While he did not participate in drills during the NFL Combine in February, he was able to travel to Indianapolis where he impressed several NFL teams during meetings.
“We’ve had feedback from a lot of teams who view Shyheim as a potential leader in the locker room, a guy can potentially become a captain,” Barnes said. “He’s a guy who will run through a wall for you. You’re never going to find someone who says Shyheim is slacking at anything. That’s just the type of player he is. He wants to work hard every day. If you bring Shyheim into the locker room, you know you’re getting someone who is going to be a life-enhancer and a player-enhancer.”
Carter was projected as a third-round pick in Draftwire’s latest mock draft. Other projections have seen him fall somewhere between the mid to later rounds in the draft.
“It’s a situation right now where teams are still evaluating where he would land,” Barnes said. “I haven’t heard a solid round yet. But wherever he goes, I know they are getting a special player.”