Over the next few months, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at each of the Jets’ rookies. We continue today with running back Michael Carter.
Carter was selected with the 107th overall pick in the fourth round. The 22-year old, who is listed at 5’8” and 200 pounds, was a first-team all-ACC selection and third team all-American in 2020 after rushing for over 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns. In four seasons with the Tar Heels, he rushed for 3,404 yards and 22 touchdowns and caught 82 passes.
In high school, Carter had a promising junior year cut short by a serious injury but bounced back to be named Florida’s offensive player of the year by USA Today in his senior season.
He was eventually recruited to North Carolina where he rushed for 559 yards and eight touchdowns as a true freshman at an average of 5.8 yards per carry.
In his sophomore year, he made three starts and ended up with 597 yards, this time averaging over seven yards per carry.
His junior and senior years saw him splitting carries with Javonte Williams, who was drafted in the second round last month by Denver. Carter actually outproduced him with a slightly higher yards per carry average as he finished his career with consecutive thousand-yard seasons.
Having been a third team all-ACC selection in his junior year, Carter was a first teamer and third-team all-American after his senior year during which he set career bests in rushing yards (1,245), total touchdowns (11), yards per carry (8.0) and receiving yards (267). He decided to opt out of the team’s bowl game to prepare for the draft.
Carter was one of the top performers at the senior bowl, racking up 75 yards and a touchdown on 10 touches. The Jets selected him with the second pick on day three of the 2021 draft.
Now let’s take a look at what Carter brings to the table, divided into categories.
Carter is small, which is one of the main reasons he was drafted later than Williams despite his slightly better statistical production. He also has a small catch radius and hand size.
At his pro day, Carter ran a 4.54 in the 40-yard dash which was slower than expected and may have hurt his stock. His explosiveness and strength numbers were also underwhelming.
However, his agility numbers were outstanding. He ran a 3.98 in the short shuttle and a 6.83 in the three cone drill. At the 2020 scouting combine, these times would’ve had him placed first among all running backs.
In addition to splitting the load with Williams, Carter was also on the field at the same time as him as North Carolina used a lot of two-back packages so one of them could be a decoy or even a blocker.
He lined up in the slot or out wide more as his career progressed, but didn’t contribute much when he lined up there. In 2020 he had a few catches from the slot, but these were actually on plays where he lined up at running back and then went in motion before the ball was snapped for a swing or screen pass.
He also played a couple of snaps as a wildcat quarterback in his career but did not attempt any passes.
Carter has good balance and a natural low center of gravity and possesses a solid frame with some thickness to it despite his overall lack of size. His footspeed is quick, allowing for good changes of direction and open field burst.
He can make a tackler whiff with a sidestep at the second level and has the ability to break tackles and accelerate away from the tackler into the open field.
While he’s not really known for his power, Carter will finish runs strong by lowering his shoulder or keeping his legs churning.
Carter fumbled four times in his first three seasons, including this costly fourth quarter fumble near the goal line in a loss to Virginia Tech in his sophomore year.
However, 2020 was the first season of his career where Carter didn’t have a single fumble.
Although he’s a smaller back and split the workload with Williams at North Carolina, Carter has shown he could potentially handle a starter’s workload. He carried 24 times in the final game of his college career, racking up an incredible 308 yards against Miami. That was the only time he carried more than 20 times though.
Carter did score nine rushing touchdowns in 2020 but most of these were longer runs. He wasn’t really an option in short yardage, as the Tar Heels tended to give those opportunities to Williams and he ended up with 19 rushing touchdowns.
Since he isn’t known for running with power, one way Carter can be an option on short yardage plays is if you can get him on the outside rather than running him between the tackles.
This play in the senior bowl was actually a 12-yard touchdown but showcased some of Carter’s determined nature as he stayed on his feet and kept his feet driving until the pile shoved him into the end zone.
Carter showed gradual improvement in terms of his statistical production in the passing game over the course of his career, but he isn’t as much of a finished article in this area as you’d hope to see from a back of his size.
The majority of his college production came on short passes and obviously his running ability led him to make some big plays on these. However, he was able to break downfield on a wheel route from time to time for a big play.
Carter didn’t have many drops in his career, but that’s not all that impressive considering how most of his targets were on short passes. On this third down, he lost focus with a defensive player lurking nearby.
When he catches the ball, Carter looks natural doing so, but hasn’t made many highlight reel type plays. On this pass, he adjusted well to the underthrow and held on with a defender draped all over him.
Carter has had mixed results in pass protection, giving up three sacks and several pressures over the course of his career. He gets rocked off his spot on this play, leading to a sack.
Nevertheless, he has had some useful experience in this role, racking up 100 snaps in pass protection in 2019. More of those pass blocking reps went to Williams in 2020, though.
He does show some signs of knowing what he’s doing in these situations, picking up the blitz on the edge here to allow his quarterback to scramble for a conversion on third and long.
Carter’s main special teams contributions with the Tar Heels were as the kickoff returner, although he did also rush some punts and did some blocking on the return units.
His overall return numbers weren’t that impressive, but he had a good year in 2019 as he was fourth in the ACC with a 24.5 yards per return average, including a 75-yarder.
It’s possible the Jets could use him in this role initially, especially if he’s not getting much playing time on offense. He doesn’t have any experience fielding punts though.
Carter shows good patience, makes decisive decisions and displays excellent vision at the second level and downfield.
His ability to change direction and to stop on a dime and accelerate quickly make him effective at finding running lanes.
He may need to work at his instincts in terms of how to win matchups against man coverage and in picking up the blitz.
Carter was a team captain in his senior year and the coaching staff remarked that he was one of the team’s main voices in terms of their collective response to racial injustice protests and the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, so clearly he displayed good leadership and maturity.
He’s also regarded as having a strong work ethic and displayed good toughness in coming back from a few injuries, along with a positive team-first attitude towards sharing the workload with Williams.
His on-field discipline has been good, with just one penalty in his career - a false start at the end of last season.
Carter’s high school injury was a bad one as it was initially thought he had broken his leg, but ultimately he was diagnosed with a torn PCL and a partially torn LCL and meniscus. The prognosis was that it would take him 8-10 months to recover from this but he was still able to have a monster year in the following season.
In 2018, he suffered a broken wrist in preseason and missed the first couple of games, but performed well once he was able to return.
Carter’s running style should make him an ideal fit for a system like the Jets plan to run. He should be at his most effective on outside zone runs. At North Carolina, they did run some zone blocking plays but Carter also had some success on power runs following pulling linemen and has a knack for getting skinny to break through small gaps when running between the tackles.
None of his former North Carolina teammates are on the Jets’ roster, but two of the Jets’ undrafted rookies - Kenny Yeboah and Hamilcar Rashed - were his teammates at the Senior Bowl.
The Jets have plenty of candidates to contribute in their running back room this year and may end up adopting a committee-based approach. This is a good situation for Carter because it means they don’t have to rely on him to contribute right from the get-go, but it will provide the Jets with a boost if he can.
They may feel that Carter has greater upside than any of their other runners so we could see him being fed some reps even if they feel he needs to bulk up a bit and fully get to grips with his passing game responsibilities before he’s ready for a full time role.
This is another player with good talent who seems to have been taken at a reasonable stage of the draft - especially given how the Jets were reportedly considering taking him at 86 if they hadn’t have used that pick earlier on to move up.