CLEMSON — It was 5:43 p.m. on Friday, Day 2 of the 2018 NFL Draft, when Ryan Carter whipped out his cell phone to share with his Twitter followers what exactly was on his mind.
The third round of the draft was wrapping up and rounds 4-7 would be held Saturday. Undrafted free agency signings would begin immediately after the final round.
The anticipation was building for a former undersized Clemson cornerback who has known nothing but doubt his entire college career.
“All I ever wanted was an opportunity,” Carter wrote.
And then it came.
About 24 hours later, Carter was celebrating after signing a free agency contract that will define the next step of his career. He now heads to Buffalo where he will fight tooth and nail to earn a roster spot with the Bills after no one drafted him in 256 picks.
At 5-9, 180 pounds, he will hear that he is too small and isn't built for the world’s highest level of professional football. But that's nothing new for Carter. He's heard it all before, and he's proved his doubters wrong every step of the way.
“I’m not a big, tall guy, so I’ve just always felt like if I could just bring some physicality and bring some effort, some toughness, then the rest will take care of itself,” Carter said in the fall. “I definitely heard it — heard a lot that I wasn’t going to be able to (play elite college football) because of my height and things of that nature. But I just try to come out with a chip on my shoulder.”
It seems to be working.
When Carter was in high school, not only was he undersized and an under-the-radar prospect, but with the exception of Clemson, no other Power 5 schools thought he would be worth a scholarship offer. A native of Georgia, Carter had interest from Georgia and Georgia Tech, but neither took the next step.
Then, he got to Clemson and faced the reality of outsiders assuming he was only there because Clemson was hoping to land his close friend and touted recruit, Robert Nkemdiche. Finally, when Carter graduated as a permanent team co-captain and mainstay in the secondary tied for third in Clemson history for games played, he did not get invited to the NFL Combine.
“That’s a joke,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said at the time. “It really is.”
Which brings Carter to where he is now.
In the past, some of the NFL’s most decorated Hall of Famers have made their mark via the free agency route, including an eight-time Pro Bowler with Carter’s new team. Offensive tackle Jason Peters turned a draft snub into an elite career with the Buffalo Bills. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo also went undrafted, as did St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner and Houston Oilers quarterback Warren Moon, along with many others.
Carter should be more than comfortable having to fight from behind and prove pundits wrong. He has done it many times before, and if Swinney was a betting man, he’d put his money on Carter doing it again.
“It’s like I told Adam (Humphries), ‘You ain’t going to get invited to the combine, nobody’s going to talk to you at Pro Day, but you’re going to make it,’” Swinney said. “Ryan’s going to be just fine. If someone gives him a fair, legitimate shot, he’ll make it.
“He’ll be ready when his time comes.”
That time is now.