A linebacker at the United States Military Academy who was at one time projected to become one of the highest-drafted Black Knights to ascend to the ranks of the National Football League waited through all seven rounds of this weekend’s 2023 NFL Draft for a call that never came.
But like so many undrafted free agents who remained on the board after the final pick was called Saturday in Kansas City, Missouri, Andre Carter II will have a chance to crack an NFL roster after the senior edge rusher inked a deal that same day with the Minnesota Vikings.
Carter exploded onto the radars of NFL scouts during Army’s 2021 campaign, when he recorded 15.5 sacks, four forced-fumbles, 17 tackles for loss and an interception.
His sack total was good for second best in the country behind only Will Anderson Jr., who was selected Thursday out of Alabama by the Houston Texans with the third overall pick. Carter’s 2021 total was also ahead of Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, who was taken by the Detroit Lions with the second overall pick in 2022.
The 2021 pass-rush productivity prompted numerous NFL analysts to project Carter as an eventual first or second round pick. That draft stock took a massive hit this season, however, after Carter tallied just three sacks across 10 games, two of which came in a single contest. The Missouri City, Texas, native’s 20 career sacks rank second in the school’s history.
If Carter had been selected during the 2023 NFL draft, it would have marked the first time a Black Knight was picked since 2008, when defensive back Caleb Campbell was selected in the seventh round, 218th overall by the Detroit Lions.
Carter, who measures 6-foot-7 and just over 250 pounds, brought a rare blend of physical ability and leadership to the Black Knight defense, Army head coach Jeff Monken told Military Times.
“He is extremely talented,” Monken said. “He has worked relentlessly for this opportunity [and] has a tremendous professional career ahead of him.”
Despite being signed by Minnesota, Carter almost did not reach the end zone on his path to further his football career. Congress fumbled over existing rules late last year that allow athletes from the service academies to receive a waiver and defer their active duty service to play professional sports.
Following public outcry, lawmakers called an audible on their plan to reverse the rule. Now, any academy students who enrolled before June 1, 2021 — like Carter — are allowed to continue under the old waiver rules. Two years of immediate service will only be mandated for students enrolled on or after that date.
After his NFL career concludes, current policy states Carter must still complete a minimum of five years of active duty service and three years with the Army Reserve.
“There’s a lot of stuff from the military and the Army that applies to football,” Carter said earlier this year at the NFL Scouting Combine, where prospects showcase skills to NFL team scouts.
“Being at the academy you have got to manage academics, football and then also your military responsibilities. That’s something I’ll take with me to the NFL, when I’m a field artillery officer in the Army and then for the rest of my life.”
Carter was one of six draft-eligible cadets scouted out of West Point this year. Another service academy athlete, Air Force Academy running back Brad Roberts, who led the NCAA in rushing in 2022 with 1,728 yards, was also granted permission to delay his commission and received a minicamp invite Saturday from the Washington Commanders.
Army has had 28 all-time NFL draft selections. There have been just two since 1970, both of whom were picked in the seventh and final round. The last time a West Point football player was selected in the league’s first round was 1947.
Entering the draft, West Point had four graduates competing as active NFL players — all of whom also entered the league as undrafted free agents. The four rostered players are Seattle Seahawks linebacker Jon Rhattigan, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Cole Christiansen, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Elijah Riley and Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Brett Toth.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.