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Michael Carter arrives as an NFL prospect after an explosive and efficient collegiate career at North Carolina. Carter shared lead-back duties the last two seasons with fellow 2021 NFL Draft prospect Javonte Williams. Don’t let Carter’s diminutive frame (5-foot-8, 202 pounds) sway you from a production profile that stands tall. Let’s discuss an exciting prospect that could find his name called on day two of the NFL draft.
Michael Carter college stats
Carter entered the collegiate ranks as a three-star prospect, per 247sports. Carter was anointed as the USA Today Florida Offensive Player of the Year after a prolific senior high school season. Carter rolled up 2,536 rushing yards with an astounding 45 all-purpose touchdowns.
After languishing in a three-way running back committee split in 2017-2018, Carter and Williams created a formidable two-headed monster over their final two seasons. Carter led the backfield with 323 total carries while averaging 1,124 rushing yards per season. He operated in an even mix of zone (56%) and gap (44%) rushing concepts in 2020. Carter was able to pile up the numbers despite logging carries behind an offensive line that ranked 71st and 74th in power success rate and 49th and 101st in stuff rate per Football Outsiders during his final two seasons.
Carter stayed for his senior season and saw his efficiency on a per-touch basis jump immensely. In 2020, Carter ranked ninth (among 150 running backs with 75 or more rushing attempts) in yards after contact per attempt (4.47). He was also 14th (among 98 running backs with 15 or more targets) in yards per route run (1.93). This was a spike compared to his per touch output in 2019. The previous season he ranked 39th (among 198 running backs with 75 or more rushing attempts) in yards after contact per attempt (3.52). Carter lagged in the receiving department in 2019, where he finished 103rd (among 166 running backs with 15 or more targets) in yards per route run (0.93).
Michael Carter strengths: Playmaker in a bottle
- Excellent vision
- Razor sharp cuts
- Receiving skill
Carter only logged two games with 20-plus carries over his final two seasons. This might seem like a detriment on the surface, but given his size and per-touch ability, it’s not a drawback and rather a plus. Carter’s explosive playmaking ability will allow him to make the most out of his volume at the next level. For an efficient runner with his build, give me 12-15 touches divided between rushing and receiving over a 15-carry performance any time.
Carter displayed time and again the ability to press the hole on zone runs and catapult upfield through the smallest of creases. His vision is married with an ability to cut on a dime that will help him put up highlight clips in the NFL. Carter also displays a savvy patience to his running that will allow him to turn 10-yard gains into 20- to 25-yarders. His ability to maximize his touches will allow him to put up hearty box scores despite modest volume numbers as a complimentary runner.
Michael Carter weaknesses
- Pass protection
- Tackle breaking
Carter’s size is listed here, but it’s not like he will be able to augment that much. Carter entered North Carolina in the 188- to 190-pound weight range, depending on which site you visit. So as a back who weighed in at 202 at the Senior Bowl, he’s likely close to, if not maxing out, the weight that he’ll carry at the next level. This is fine if we understand that likely means he’s going to be a 1B in the NFL and probably not a workhorse.
Carter is a player who excels based on burst, vision and lateral agility. Expecting him to stiff-arm and bowl his way to 100 yards in any game isn’t going to happen. He can break arm tackles and attempts from defenders taking poor angles, but he won’t be confused with Javonte Williams on any film session.
Which Carter do we get in the NFL when it comes to pass protection? From 2017 to 2019, Carter held his own in pass blocking with six hurries and eight pressure allowed over 175 pass-blocking snaps. In 2020, we saw this change drastically. Carter allowed two hurries and three pressures on 32 pass-blocking snaps. Carter lost the role to Williams, who surpassed him with 64 pass protection snaps. Carter is not devoid of effort in this category, but his size and 2020 output leave questions about this in the NFL.
Michael Carter’s path to a starting role
Carter will likely be a Day 2 pick. For our purposes, our fingers are crossed that he’s selected inside those top three rounds. If a team invests that type of capital in him, then there’s a clearer path to a consistent 1B role in a backfield. Currently there’s a quartet of teams sitting between picks 66-80 (Round 3) that make sense as possible landing spots for Carter:
- New York Jets (pick 66): If the Jets are content entering the season with La’Mical Perine as the early-down back, Carter makes sense as his running mate. Carter would be a perfect fit with Mike LaFleur’s scheme. LaFleur could incorporate zone concepts and led a 49er offense (pass game coordinator) that finished tied for ninth in targets to the running back position (125) in 2020.
- Houston Texans (pick 67): The release of Duke Johnson and the bloated contract of David Johnson would give Carter the sneaky upside to possibly enter Week 1 as the starter. If David Johnson is also cut before the season, Carter could lead this backfield, and if not, he could operate in tandem. The hope would then be to take over in 2022.
- Denver Broncos (pick 71): Phillip Lindsay is a restricted free agent. If Lindsay is not retained, Denver could look to find a tag-team partner for Melvin Gordon. Denver finished last season 13th in rushing attempts and fourth in targets to the running back position. There’s volume here for Carter to walk into the season with an immediate 10- to 12-touch role.
- Arizona Cardinals (pick 80): If anyone has listened to our prospect profile for Michael Carter at Fade the Chalk, this might seem like low-hanging fruit. One of my closest comps for Carter has been Chase Edmonds, who was selected in the middle rounds (4.34) by the Cardinals. If Arizona doesn’t resign Kenyan Drake, we could be looking at a backfield split between Edmonds and Carter. Edmonds is an unrestricted free agent in 2022, so this also offers a sneaky spot for Carter to ascend as the 1A after one year.