North Carolina's Bruce Carter was the nation's top-ranked linebacker prospect entering the 2010 season, and was NFLDraftScout.com's No. 6-rated prospect overall on Sept. 1.
Where he stands now under the 2011 NFL Draft microscope is open to conjecture.
Carter injured his left knee against North Carolina State on Nov. 20. The Tar Heels announced Tuesday that Carter underwent "ACL reconstruction surgery," which undoubtedly spins his draft stock arrow downward.
|Carter puts the clamps on Georgia Tech running back Anthony Allen. (US Presswire)|
According to the team's strength and conditioning coaches, Carter's testing numbers were off the charts the past two years. There's an argument to be made that he was the finest pure athlete -- at any position -- in college football as a senior. Carter was timed at a tick below 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash with a 40.5-inch vertical leap and maxed on the bench at 440 pounds, a testament to his five-days-a-week morning weightlifting routine in the off-season.
NFLDraftScout.com maintains Carter will work his way back into the top two rounds; he's ranked 52nd overall based on the left ACL surgery. It's not unreasonable to believe he could play in the preseason in 2011; he'll be nine months removed from surgery before most NFL training camps end.
But Carter can still be one of the top three outside linebackers drafted. He rates behind only Texas A&M's Von Miller (No. 7 overall), Boston College's Mark Herzlich (29), Oklahoma's Jeremy Beal (32) and Nevada's Dontay Moch (37) by NFLDraftScout.com entering bowl season.
One of as many as six players on the UNC roster projected as top 60 picks, no player outworked Carter in the offseason, coach Butch Davis said. Carter graduates in a few days, and could have been a high draft pick in 2010, but he returned to school to become his family's first college graduate.
He wouldn't be the first prospect drafted in the first round despite a recent ACL tear. Anyone remember Willie McGahee going 23rd overall to the Bills in 2003, then not playing until '04?
And history shows the need for explosive pass rushers can push players higher in a draft than reasonable and objective evaluation suggests (hello, first-round picks Vernon Gholston, Derrick Harvey, Lawrence Jackson, Jamaal Anderson and Jarvis Moss).
Two players considered prominent prospects entering the 2009 season -- Clemson's Ricky Sapp and Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield -- were downgraded significantly because of knee injuries. Schofield was a fourth-round pick (Arizona Cardinals) only three months after tearing an ACL at Senior Bowl workouts. After beginning the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, he is now rotating with veteran Clark Haggans and earning increased playing time the second half of the season. His knee has healed enough to play as a rush end in some passing situations.
Sapp, whose chronic knee problems dropped him to the fifth round (Philadelphia Eagles), had a torn ACL in his right knee in 2008 but said he was never 100 percent at Clemson during his senior season. He was placed on injured reserve in August when he "tweaked" his right knee.
Jeff Reynolds is the College Sports Editor for The Sports Xchange, and a Senior Editor for NFLDraftScout.com.