By: Jason Ferris
Here’s today’s riddle. What rookie had one less carry than fellow rookie Javonte Williams, was drafted 72 spots later, but actually had more rushing yards and better yards per carry average? Well, that would be none other than Williams’ fellow North Carolina teammate Michael Carter.
When the New York Jets turned in Carters’ card with the 107th pick overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, they moved one step closer to finding clarity in their backfield. With the departure of Frank Gore, and his 203 touches, the Jets running backs’ room may be crowded, but it lacks a solid incumbent.
Tevin Coleman: On the surface, the newly acquired free agent looks to be the RB1. In four years with the Atlanta Falcons, Coleman rushed the ball 528 times for 2,340 yards, 18 touchdowns, and a respectable 4.4 yards per rush average. He added another 92 receptions and 11 touchdowns through the air. However, the past two seasons in San Francisco have not been so productive for Coleman. His 165 rush attempts for 597 yards, six touchdowns and a 3.6 yards per attempt are not lead-back numbers.
La’Mical Perine: Drafted in the 4th round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Perine’s rookie season with the Jets was unspectacular. In 10 games he rushed 64 times for 232 yards, two touchdowns, and a 3.6 yards per rush average. The most telling stat, however, was Perine’s inability to create additional yardage as elite backs do. At 1.6 yards after contact and only two broken tackles all season, Perine lacks the explosive playmaking ability that an NFL team looks for in its RB1.
Ty Johnson: Rumour has it that Johnson and Carter are really making that hard push in training camp to come out on top of the Jets running back depth chart. In 2020, Johnson appeared in 11 games with the Jets rushing 54 times for 254 yards and one touchdown. But as with Perine, Johnson lacks the ability to extend running plays. He averaged 1.8 yards after contact and managed to break only a solitary tackle all season.
The 2020 Jets were the worst in the NFL offensively (32nd overall) and were dead last in the league in rushing touchdowns. It helped lead to the firing of head coach Adam Gase and the hiring of Robert Saleh. New offensive coordinator Mike Lafleur joins Saleh, both of whom learned under 49er head coach Kyle Shanahan, and will look to develop an offense similar to the ones the 49ers ran during their tenure. And in that scheme, the running backs are vital to the success of it.
Carter is the perfect fit. He rushed 514 times in college for 3,404 yards, 22 touchdowns and a healthy 6.6 yards per rush attempt average. He added 82 more receptions for 656 yards, six more touchdowns, and an average of 8.0 yards per reception. But what sets Carter apart from the rest of the Jets’ running backs, what makes him a potential elite NFL running back, is both his explosiveness and his ball security. In 2020, Carter rushed 157 times, gained an additional 702 yards after initial contact (4.47 average per attempt) all without coughing up the ball even once. That is what an NFL coach dreams about and that is exactly what is going to make Michael Carter RB1 for the New York Jets in 2021 and beyond.