Michael Carter is Already the Best Jets Running Back

May 12, 2021
Michael Carter is Already the Best Jets Running Back

With the 107th overall pick of the NFL Draft, the New York Jets selected North Carolina’s Michael Carter, the fifth running back off the board. Though his fourth-round draft capital leaves something to be desired, he finds himself in a running back room with only La'Mical Perine and 28-year-old Tevin Coleman to leapfrog for significant playing time right off the bat. Let’s take a gander at this rookie’s college production, and what his fantasy outlook could be in New York for 2021.

Editor's Note: Read more player profiles from the rest of the 4for4 staff!

College Years

No stranger to NFL-level backfield splits, Michael Carter spent much of his college career sharing time with draft-mate Javonte Williams, who the Broncos took with their 35th pick (more on his situation here). Carter and Williams split the backfield workload at UNC nearly right down the middle over the 2019 and 2020 seasons, with Carter accruing 379 touches for 2,669 total yards (7.04 yards per touch) and Williams sticking right behind him with 365 for 2,554 total yards (6.99 yards per touch). Despite similar production in the same college offense, NFL teams opted to grab the more prototypically-sized Javonte Williams (5’10”, 212 pounds) 72 draft slots before the smaller Carter (5’7”, 201 pounds).

Carter showed exceptional vision as a ball carrier throughout his college career and his long speed helped him rack up over eight yards per carry in 2020. Combine that with his one singular fumble across his 379 touches over the last two seasons, and you start to get a picture of how consistent he can be with the ball in his hands. He doesn’t have an issue with taking too many east-west steps as is typically pegged on players who end up being third-down specialists at the next level. This is certain to ingratiate himself with the Jets coaching staff.

As mentioned above, Carter doesn’t have the typical requisite size of a three-down back at the professional level but that doesn’t mean he can’t force his way into more touches once he exhibits his efficiency once he has the ball in his hands. His relative athletic score (RAS) paints a picture of a small back who can use his elite shiftiness to find holes and get up the field. Three player comps I’ve heard for him throughout his draft process were Giovanni Bernard, Devonte Freeman, and Duke Johnson.

How Michael Carter Fits with the Jets

Quite simply, this is plausibly the best rookie running back landing spot of the entire draft, outside of Najee Harris going to Pittsburgh. In the short term, Michael Carter finds himself on a very thin running back depth chart. In the long term, he will look to grow in an offense that just spent its first four draft picks on the offensive side of the ball, which came as a bit of a surprise as their new head coach is former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Salah.

With an entirely new regime in New York, it will be difficult to tell exactly what type of run game usage the Jets will employ, but it is worth noting that Salah brought Mike LaFleur with him from San Francisco, essentially promoting him from passing game coordinator of the 49ers to the offensive coordinator of the Jets. Though it is widely known that Kyle Shanahan calls the offensive plays for his teams, it would come as no surprise if the Salah/LaFleur team adopted a similar approach in their new home. If that is indeed the case, the 49er's neutral rushing rate finishes of 11th, fifth, and 11th over the previous three seasons could give us a glimpse of how the Jets would like to move the ball in neutral game scripts.

If the answer is even remotely similar, we could give Michael Carter a modest 45-to-50% of New York’s backfield touches and he would still be floating around the 200-touch mark for the season. To do that he’ll need to siphon snaps away from Tevin Coleman (saw the field for 63 snaps in 2020), La'Mical Perine (200 snaps —couldn’t force Frank Gore off the field), and Ty Johnson (cut from the Lions —the team that drafted him— in the middle of the season). Carter is already the most talented running back on the team and even with his status as a fourth-round pick, he already has more draft capital invested in him than Perine, not to mention the fact that La'Mical is a leftover from the last regime.

I am confident that Carter will lead the New York Jets backfield in touches by the end of the 2021 season, and with his vision and game-breaking ability, he will mesh well behind an offensive line featuring second-year behemoth Mekhi Becton and first-round 2021 selection Alijah Vera-Tucker on the left side of the line.

Bottom Line

  • Michael Carter’s size and athletic testing forced him down NFL teams’ draft boards but the landing spot brings him back into fantasy relevance.
  • Work in the passing game will boost a floor if the coaching staff holds off on a heavy workload in his rookie season.
  • He has the easiest path to the top of the depth chart of anybody in this rookie draft not named Najee Harris.
  • Michael Carter projects as an RB3 with fluctuations between RB2 and RB4 weeks due to inconsistent workloads. His current ADP in Underdog drafts is 8.11 as the RB34.
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