Over the next few months, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at each of the Jets’ rookies. We continue today with defensive back Michael Carter II.
The 22-year old Carter is 5’10” and 184 pounds and was the 154th overall pick in the fifth round of this year’s draft. He racked up 135 tackles, 23 passes defensed and four interceptions in four seasons at Duke. Carter was a third-team all-ACC selection in 2020.
Carter was a three-star defensive back prospect out of high school before being recruited to Duke where he started two games as a true freshman in 2017. He ended the season with 18 tackles, a sack and two passes defensed.
In 2018, Carter started 11 games and recorded 23 tackles and six passes defensed. He also broke up six passes and intercepted the first pass of his career.
He became a full-time starter in 2019 and led the team in defensive snaps as he recorded a career-high 53 tackles and broke up seven passes with one interception.
In 2020, he was banged up but still earned third team all-ACC honors as he posted career-highs in tackles for loss (three), interceptions (two) and passes defensed (eight).
After being invited to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and scouting combine and then impressing at Duke’s pro day, Carter was drafted by the Jets with the second of their three fifth round picks.
Now let’s take a look at what Carter brings to the table, divided into categories.
Carter is small and seriously lacks length. In fact, for all defensive backs invited to the combine since 1999, only four defensive backs have shorter arms than he does.
He turned heads at his pro day when he ran one of his two 40-yard dashes in 4.32. He also posted an impressive 6.9 in the three-cone drill and a 35.5-inch vertical leap. However, his short shuttle and bench press were underwhelming.
Carter’s versatility is impressive, as he’s played a variety of roles including deep safety, in the box and at cornerback.
He’s primarily played as a slot cornerback most of the time and that might be his obvious position at the NFL level. However, when Mark Gilbert was injured early on in the 2018 season, he started for the rest of the year on the outside.
Carter showed an ability to range deep in coverage, latch onto assignments down the field, react in zone coverage or match up in man-to-man both in off coverage and up at the line.
Within these roles, he displayed good timing and closing speed together when playing off and a good ability to stay close to and mirror his man when employed in close coverage. He can, at times, struggle to stay with receivers on sharp route breaks but his recovery speed is excellent.
While Carter is fast enough to run with his man, his lack of size can be a detriment. He has shown he can contest passes, but needs to ensure he gets his head turned early to make a play on the ball, otherwise he can be out-physicalled at the catchpoint.
On this play, he reacts to pick up the receiver coming under the formation but fails to anticipate the route break and loses contact with his man to give up the touchdown.
Overall, Carter’s coverage numbers weren’t bad, as he gave up a catch on just 52 percent of his targets. Only two of the six touchdowns he got beaten for in his career were when lined up in the slot despite the fact over half of his targets where when lined up inside. He did give up three 40-yard plays in his career though.
As noted, one thing Carter needs to work at is getting his head turned early and when he does this, he looks good because he can run deep with any receiver.
He made a lot of plays on the ball in his career with 21 pass break-ups and four interceptions in his three years as a starter. Despite not having a big wingspan, he’s good at getting his hands on the ball and displayed good hands on this one-handed snag.
Carter is a solid tackler who shows good range and closing speed and can stop a ball carrier in his tracks in space.
However, his lack of size means that offensive players can drive him forwards, drag him for extra yards or fall forward at the end of the run. He was trucked by his namesake and new Jets teammate Michael Carter at the end of this run.
He only averaged four missed tackles per season during his career and showed an improvement in 2020 after missing several tackles in 2019.
Carter plays with good physicality, although there are times where he takes things a bit far and is lucky not to get flagged. Again, focusing on getting his head turned around to locate the ball on downfield routes will be important here.
Despite this tendency, he only had six penalties in his college career, although three of these (two for defensive holding and one for pass interference) came last season.
He is physical for his size in terms of hitting, competing to disrupt passes and leveraging his man towards the sideline. He was also employed in press coverage quite regularly and showed an ability to jam his man effectively at the line.
His short arms could be a concern in press coverage at the NFL level. On this play he whiffs on the jam, although he has the recovery speed to still make the play.
Carter didn’t make many contributions against the run in his first two seasons, but did contribute more over the past few seasons.
On this play, he aggressively takes on a blocker and is able to blow up a jet sweep for a loss in the backfield.
His lack of size can be an issue when a blocker gets his hands on him in space and more than half of his missed tackles in his college career came against the run.
Carter only blitzed from time to time with 1.5 sacks in his career. However, he generated pressure at a good rate when he did.
He has the closing speed and ability to finish to be an effective blitzer and forced the only fumble of his career on this play.
Carter has some kick return experience, although he only averaged 20 yards per return with a long of 31 when he had the role in 2019. He did return two kickoffs for a touchdown in his senior year at high school though.
Otherwise, he’s played some kick and punt coverage, producing well in both roles. He has also featured on the field goal defense unit.
In 2019, he was a full-time gunner on the punt coverage unit, registering five tackles within that role. That might be his initial route onto the active roster.
Carter is regarded as an instinctive player who often makes quick reads to avoid blocks and blow up screen passes in the flat.
On this play, he closes quickly on the receiver in the flat to blow up the play after a dump-off pass.
His positional versatility and the fact that he basically knows how to play every secondary position, sometimes learning on the fly, display his ability to adapt to different requirements.
Carter earned academic all-ACC honors in 2020.
Carter was voted as a team captain in 2020, a role he took seriously as he understood the added responsibility to become more vocal.
He was a semi finalist for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year award for which the nominees had to have shown leadership by exhibiting courage, integrity and sportsmanship on and off the field.
Carter’s selection continues the pattern of most of the off-season additions bringing positive, potentially culture-changing, character traits to the organization.
Carter was quite durable in college, as he played in 46 games in four years. However, he did miss two games due to a sprained knee in 2018 and also missed a game due to injury in 2017.
He was banged up throughout the 2020 season though, appearing on the injured list multiple times and exiting one game a couple of times.
At his pro day workout, Carter didn’t participate in the broad jump because of a calf problem but completed the rest of his workout.
When the Jets called Carter to tell him they were drafting him, Robert Saleh told him they have a plan for him, referencing his athleticism and man coverage abilities. The reference to man coverage would suggest they might be looking for him to contribute as a slot cornerback rather than at safety. The fact the team announced him - and list him on their official roster - as a cornerback is further evidence of this.
With the Jets’ positonless defense, he could end up competing in other roles too. Perhaps they could also use him as a backup to Lamarcus Joyner who has the ability to defend the slot but is expected to start at safety.
None of his former Duke teammates are on the Jets but he was a teammate of Jets undrafted rookies Tristen Hoge and Chris Naggar at the Collegiate Bowl.
Carter is a player who flew under some radars during the pre-draft process and his lack of length is a potential concern. However, he has some impressive playmaking abilities and the Jets seem high on his ability to sharpen up his techniques and become a reliable member of their secondary.
In the short term, he might be able to lock down a role as a primary gunner. Wide receiver Matt Cole could be his main competition for that role.
As we delve deeper into this class, Carter’s athleticism, playmaking talent and strong intangibles are attributes he seems to have in common with most of the rest of the players the team drafted or brought in as undrafted free agents.