The Jets defense is loaded with big names from Quinnen Williams to Sauce Gardner. Quincy Williams is in the middle of a breakout year. John Franklin-Myers and DJ Reed receive some attention as above average starters.
Slot corner Michael Carter II flies under the radar a bit. Part of this is likely due to analysts not fully appreciating how integral a slot corner is to a defense. In the past, the slot corner was a part-time player. He came in situationally in nickel subpackages. In today’s NFL, however, offenses primarily operate from three wide receiver personnel groupings. The slot cornerback is a starter. To this point in the season, Carter has participated in two-thirds of the snaps.
In those snaps, he has handled the job very well.
Michael Carter II has allowed the second-lowest completion percentage (55.6%) of slot defenders with at least 50 coverage snaps (Source: TrueMedia) pic.twitter.com/PKXBbsLGSM— NYJ Communications (@NYJetsPR) October 9, 2023
You can see that a low completion percentage out of the slot isn’t common. Only five defenders have allowed less than 63 percent. That is due to the nature of the spot.
The slot corner lines up in the middle of the field. Outside corners have the ability to position themselves between the guy they are covering and the sideline to restrict their man’s movement. Players like Sauce Gardner have this down to a science.
In the slot, you are in the middle of the field. The guy you cover can break either way. Align left, and he can break right. Align right, and he can break left. It makes preventing completions difficult. A completion percentage this low is thus very impressive.
Of course, the primary role of cornerback is to cover. The slot corner has additional responsibilities, though. You have to remember that he is typically on the field in place of a linebacker to bolster pass defense. He also aligns in the middle of the field. That means the slot generally is given assignments in the run game.
So in addition to being quick enough to break in either direction quickly against the pass, you need to be tough enough to fire into the line of scrimmage to disrupt the run game.
Here you can see Carter weave his way through traffic to help make a run stop.
On this play you can see that while Carter does not make the tackle, he fills the hole the ball carrier wanted to go through and redirects him to teammates who are able to clean up the play.
And while we rightly judge cornerbacks on their athletic ability to stay with receivers, being a great athlete alone isn’t enough in then NFL. You also have to be smart. Take this third and goal play in the second quarter of Sunday’s win over the Denver Broncos.
Jerry Jeudy goes in motion across the formation, and Carter follows him.
However, Carter spots something and just lets Jeudy go. Presumably he was tipped off by something he remembered from film study that this is a screen coming to the other side.
Because Carter didn’t follow Jeudy all the way across the formation, he’s in position to make a play on the ball. More importantly, he draws a blocker on the screen.
This is significant because Carter actually misses on his tackle attempt. However, Jordan Whitehead, who is unblocked, is there to stop the ball carrier until help arrives. The reason Whitehead is unblocked is Carter’s presence on that side of the field. Without Carter, the man who tries to block Carter could block Whitehead instead. The Broncos would have two blockers against two defenders, and this play might have ended in a touchdown.
Carter might have whiffed on the tackle, but his awareness probably saved a touchdown.
To have a defense that works, you need big time stars like Sauce and Quinnen. You also need unsung players doing subtle work that frequently goes unnoticed. You need guys like Michael Carter II.