Michael Carter Is Impressing in 2021
By: Rich Maletto (@BodaciousBeer)
Michael Carter is going to be a name you hear a lot over the next few weeks. It’s also the name you are going to hear the most regarding the 2021 Senior Bowl.
I was looking forward to seeing Kylin Hill and Khalil Herbert play. I will be frank I didn’t see anything that impressed me in the slightest from either of those two. Michael Carter, on the other hand, jumped off the screen and forced you to take notice.
Michael Carter’s Fantasy Outlook
Carter had eight carries for 60 yards and a touchdown on the ground while notching two catches for 15 yards.
To give you a frame of reference the next highest rushing total for the game came from quarterback Ian Book with 18 yards. Kylin Hill led the American Team with 15 yards on six carries. The running game was largely not existent, except for Carter.
Javonte Williams has received a lot of praise recently, and rightfully so, but I think it has led to us looking past Michael Carter. The UNC backfield duo of Carter and Williams combined for a total of 2385 rushing yards this season. I was surprised to see that Williams had more receiving yards than Carter on the year.
As you watch UNC games from the 2021 season, it’s hard not being impressed with both running backs in this duo. Williams has the size that catches the eyes of pro scouts, and I think that’s why some of us have discredited Carter. I will admit I am guilty of this.
I watched multiple UNC games and was thoroughly impressed with both running backs, but I was guilty of looking past Carter and what he brings to the team. Carter’s talents were on display at the Senior Bowl. Carter had a beautiful run in the second quarter that started with him making two defenders miss in the backfield. It was by far the best run of the day, as the run game had been nonexistent for both teams up to that point.
Carter’s elusiveness is the first thing you notice in the run I mentioned above Carter jukes one defensive player then casually uses a stiff arm to push past the next defender before making a cut and turning on the jets. While none of the running backs had much room to run all day, Carter somehow found ways to make room.
Carter also had the only rushing touchdown all day. On that run, he ran up between the tackles and ran into a scrum, where the offensive line just decided to push Carter to the endzone. I mention this because Carter is about 5’8″ and weighs about 202 lbs. That is a bit on the smaller side for running backs, but you wouldn’t know by watching Carter play. He does not go down easily, and as you saw on the TD run, he has the strength to push through defenders.
I should point out, a talented running back that had a solid NFL career, Warrick Dunn only measured 5’9″ and 180 lbs. If Carter could put on five to eight lbs without losing any burst or top-end speed, he would be about the same size as Maurice Jones-Drew. Those are two backs that had pretty successful NFL careers proving the doubters wrong.
One benefit of watching the Senior Bowl we were able to watch all the running backs in a similar scheme with similar players, and the fact that only Michael Carter shined, I believe, says a lot about this young man. Carter is not currently listed as one of the top six running backs in this class, and he should be. One NFL team is going to get a steal at the running back position with Carter.
A team like the San Francisco 49ers and Kyle Shanahan would allow Carter to shine. Sharing a backfield doesn’t seem to bother him and frankly, Carter had a lot of success in college in a shared backfield. The Green Bay Packers would be another solid fit to team up Carter with a power guy like AJ Dillon.
I don’t see Carter as every-down running back in the NFL, but most teams aren’t looking for that anyway. I would like to see some better pass protection from Carter for him to take his game to another level.
Kellen Mond NFL Prospect
Another player that jumped out to most people was Kellen Mond, as he walked away with the Senior Bowl MVP trophy. Mond came back into the game in the 3rd quarter and threw for 112 yards, completing seven out of 10 attempts and two touchdowns. It was quite the 3rd quarter to watch!
What you found watching the game were a few things. The first being, Mond is quite mobile, he needs to work on his pocket presence a little bit, but he is a quarterback that can move around behind the line of scrimmage. The second thing you will notice, he is not afraid to sling that ball into tight windows. This was never more apparent than his first touchdown to Amari Rodgers.
Not only was it a gutsy throw by Mond, but an incredible catch by Rodgers who took quite a shot and held onto the ball for the touchdown. The third thing I noticed, Mond throws a ball with some serious heat. Which, at times leads to overthrows in the intermediate areas and tougher balls to catch on the short routes. If Mond, can work on his touch with the ball on the shorter passes it would help his game tremendously.
To be clear, I am not suggesting Mond is a top-end talent like what we saw with Patrick Mahomes a few years ago. What Mond is, is a young talented player that needs some grooming. He is not a player I would expect to see the field in 2021.
I think about some of the past quarterbacks taken in the middle rounds of the NFL draft and most have either had careers as backups or very short careers. There are a few later round picks that did stick around in the NFL and even started, like Tom Brady, but most didn’t. Mond is not Tom Brady, but when I think about Mason Rudolph or Gardner Minshew and I compare them to Mond, I feel like Mond is better than both of those players. At least, he has the raw tools to be better than both of those players, in my opinion.
Things that will translate to the NFL for Mond are his mobility, willingness to unleash his throws, and an arm that can live up to NFL standards. When you watch his past games, inconsistency is a reoccurring theme. Flashes of brilliance followed up by games that make your stomach turn. I am hopeful a solid NFL coach or the right NFL coach can mold Mond into a consistent performer.
Dez Fitzpatrick Fantasy Sleeper
The last player that caught my and eye was Dez Fitzpatrick. Two of the best catches you saw in the game, were made by Fitzpatrick. Sick out route where he somehow dragged his feet to complete a catch. Then Fitzpatrick made an incredible catch over the defender along the sidelines. Both catches had me in awe.
As impressive as two of the six catches were, he had an absolute terrible drop that hit him square in the hands as he was wide open. I don’t want to overstate any one ball, but I can’t deny that was one play that made me take notice. However, Dez didn’t let it get in his head, rebounded and the young man led all players with six catches and 90 yards.
I will be upfront I have a thing for bigger taller receivers. I believe that you can’t coach or teach speed and size. At 6’2″ and 210 lbs. Fitzpatrick has the build to play in the NFL. Fitzpatrick should be more than an adequate, red-zone target at that size, and the way he attacks the ball on contested passes, I see Dez being a problem for a lot of defensive backs.
Fitzpatrick does possess a lot of the skill set needed to be successful in the NFL. He has the size, he is rumored to be in that 4.4-4.5 range in the 40, and he had a lot of attention coming out of high school. All this means he has the raw tools, so why haven’t we heard much about him until now?
Fitzpatrick started his freshman year with promise, he had 49 catches and 699 yards, with Lamar Jackson throwing to him. Then the quarterback play went the way of the NFL draft when Jackson moved onto the NFL. But it wasn’t all quarterback play or lack thereof that impacted what we saw from Fitzpatrick.
The Louisville Cardinals brought in a speedster by the name of Tutu Atwell in 2018. Atwell’s production had an impact on Dez Fitzpatrick’s role and output for the team. In 2020 Dez caught 43 passes to Atwell’s 46 passes, but Fitzpatrick went for 833 yards compared to Atwell’s 625 yards. The point being, there wasn’t a ton of volume in this passing game compared to the teams like Florida or even Alabama.
It’s easy to discredit Fitzpatrick and his lack of yards and catches if you just look at the stat sheet, but there’s more to that story as I just mentioned above. Fitzpatrick does need to improve though if he is going to make an impact in the NFL. Dez has got to work on his lateral quickness, which he has shown he can do so. He is so long it can take him a little too long to slow down and cut.
Earlier I mentioned size and speed can’t be coached, and I believe that, but improved route running and better movement through your hips can be taught. Fitzpatrick was a highly touted recruit, the raw tools still appear to be there, Dez just needs to be molded a bit. To be clear, I am not suggesting Fitzpatrick as a round one or two draft pick, but more a player that can be developed into an NFL starter.
Now let’s get to the fun stuff, what does this all mean in terms of fantasy? Right now without knowing where these players land and me being a coach and systems kind of guy, where to draft these players is a bit of a crapshoot.
Michael Carter should be a target for those of you in dynasty leagues, regardless if it’s a startup draft or rookie draft. I firmly believe Carter is a top-five running back in this class. He has elite burst and elusiveness that is just phenomenal to watch. Once he gets his pass-pro down, he’s going to see the field, even if it’s just a third-down back. He is too explosive and talented to keep off the field. Carter needs to be a fantasy target for fantasy GMs.
In the case of Kellen Mond, patience will be a virtue. Mond is not going to jump on NFL rosters and start unless he ends up in a similar situation to what we saw with Gardner Minshew in 2019 in Jacksonville. This is a player you should target in the later rounds of a rookie draft to sit on your taxi squad. If we see much or anything from Mond other than preseason in 2021, I would be shocked.
Dez Fitzpatrick is a tricky one to gauge here. There are a lot of talented wide receivers in this rookie class, and frankly, the last two years have produced some very talented receivers. The range of outcomes for Dez Fitzpatrick is incredibly diverse. We could see him not develop into a starter and I don’t see him as much of a returner on special teams, or we could see him as a WR2 on a couple of teams two or three years from now.
I will be targeting Dez in my fantasy drafts. I will be hoping to draft him in about the same spots I was able to grab Donavan Peoples-Jones or Antonio Gandy-Golden last year, which was at the very end of rookie drafts. Just like DPJ and AGG Fitzpatrick has a lot of the tools to like and still quite a bit of work to put in to refine himself at the position. I still believe the sky is the limit for Fitzpatrick. He would make a heck of a possession receiver and red-zone target with his size and body control.
Senior Bowl Fantasy Impacts
Don’t go crazy targeting these players, maybe be willing to reach on Michael Carter, but Mond and Fitzpatrick are much more projects than Carter is. Also, don’t be surprised to see Carter climb up both NFL and fantasy draft boards after this weekend he was impressive at the Senior Bowl. One thing you will notice, none of these players I mention here will you find in anybody’s top 10 mock draft selections, because that’s not what these players are. These folks played in the Senior Bowl with the goal of raising their draft stock. Carter, Mond, and Fitzpatrick all did that at the Senior Bowl.
-By Rich Maletto