The next newcomer up in our Closer Look series is Syracuse transfer Ja’Had Carter. Carter was a three-year starter at safety for the Orange, and comes to Ohio State with two years of eligibility remaining. Last season, Carter posted 36 tackles, three interceptions, and returned a fumble 90 yards for a touchdown.
The Buckeyes lost two starting safeties from the 2022 season, so they were intent on landing somebody in the portal who could either win a job or give the defense options from snap to snap. In Carter, the Buckeyes have landed a player who can line up anywhere in the secondary, and there are even some in the NFL who view him as a possibility at cornerback.
With a 6-foot-2 and 198-pound frame, Carter has the size to match up with tight ends, and the physicality to get involved in run support.
The most likely place for Carter, however, will be at nickel in place of departed starter Tanner McCalister. It’s a position he has played at Syracuse, but it’s not the only place he’s played, which actually suits him quite well for this Ohio State defense.
For instance, the way the Buckeyes have their safeties aligned to the strength side of the field could leave Carter as a deep safety with the motion of the slot receiver or tight end. It’s something that Tanner McCalister had to be ready for, and it’s something Carter has done throughout his career.
You can watch these clips from Syracuse’s game against Clemson from last season to see all of the different places Carter lines up. The depth chart at Syracuse listed him as a “Boundary Safety,” which was true some of the time, but not all of the time.
By the way, these are not highlights. They are simply the majority of plays where Carter ends up near the ball. Still, there is plenty to like, including an interception on a nice read and break. But after the interception, pay attention to the two following plays and how he attacks blockers.
Carter is a physical player when necessary. He appears to be as comfortable playing against a spread offense as he is playing against two tight ends. Both situations ask different things of him, which suits his versatility.
Over the course of the three games of clips, you’ll see a pretty solid tackler in one-on-one situations. There may only be two or three missed tackles total in these clips. I will say that I did purposely pull his busiest games so that there’d be something to watch. It stands to reason in games where he didn’t finish with as many tackles, he perhaps had more misses. Still, he never really feels out of control in any of these clips, save for maybe one play.
The Buckeyes could look very different at safety this season, even with a pair of veterans back in Lathan Ransom and Josh Proctor. Proctor opened the season as the starter at strong safety before Ransom eventually replaced him. With starting free safety Ronnie Hickman off to seek an NFL future, one of those two could take over at free safety. Or maybe they stay where they are and Carter gets a look there.
The backup nickel last year was Cameron Martinez, and he will return again to compete for a starting spot. He had his ups and downs last year, but has set about learning from them and being ready for whatever comes his way in 2023.
Sophomore Sonny Styles will be “somewhere” according to defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. That somewhere will likely be strong safety, which would seem to point to a move for Ransom at the very least.
Spring ball will determine which directions get pursued, but at this point it would seem that Carter will be the most versatile safety on the roster. And its most experienced.
Carter also has experience working in a rotation, which may be what he sees at Ohio State as well. With the Buckeyes having options at safety, including sophomore Kye Stokes, roles could be secured by more than just the three starting safeties.
It is easy, however, to imagine a lineup of Lathan Ransom at free safety, Sonny Styles at strong safety, and Ja’Had Carter at nickel. The three of them could go from defending three receivers on one snap, to lining up against two tight ends on the next. Carter and Styles could simply swap spots and now you’ve got Styles as a quasi-outside linebacker in the box and Carter back as a deep safety when needed.
At the very least, Carter gives the Buckeyes more options.
If he plays as well as the coaches are hoping, he’ll also give them fixes.
Previous Closer Look editions
[Ja’had Carter header photo courtesy of the Syracuse Dept. of Athletics.]