The 2021 NFL Draft promises to be a good draft at a number of positions, notably the quarterback, wide receiver, and cornerback positions.
This also looks like a good year to find a running back, with options to fit any need and offensive scheme. It’s unlikely that the New York Giants will be drafting a running back early, but if they do choose to do so, they should have their choice of talented players.
One of those players could be North Carolina’s Michael Carter, who partnered with Javonte Williams [prospect profile] to form one of the (if not the) best running back duos in the nation. Carter and Williams also provided one of the best, and most productive, rushing attacks in North Carolina history.
Prospect: Michael Carter
Games Watched: vs. Syracuse (2020), vs. Florida State (2020), vs. Notre Dame (2020), vs. Miami (2020).
Red Flags: none
Games Played: 44
Yards (per carry): 3,404 (6.6 per carry)
Yards (per catch): 596 (8.0 per catch)
Total Touchdowns (rushing/receiving): 28 (22 rushing, 6 receiving)
Games Played: 11
Yards (per carry): 1,245 (8.0 per catch)
Yards (per catch): 267 (10.7 per catch)
Total Touchdowns (rushing/receiving): 11 (9 rushing, 2 receiving)
Best: Zone running, pass protection, pass catching, change of direction
Worst: Power, size
Projection: Primary rotation back in a spread offense or third-down back in a traditional offense.
University of North Carolina running back Michael Carter is a compact and versatile player who has the ability to contribute in multiple ways at the NFL level.
Carter is undersized compared to the NFL average at the position, measuring 5080 (5-foot, 8-inches) and 199 pounds. However, he more accurately described as “compact”, rather than “small”, carrying good thickness in his upper and lower body. Carter’s height gives him a naturally low center of gravity, useful for weathering contact and changing directions quickly.
Carter typically lined up next to the quarterback in North Carolina’s spread offense and played on any down and distance. He was at his best running in zone blocking schemes, showing good patience behind the line of scrimmage to allow blocks to develop and vision to pick out holes. Carter showed good short-area quickness and an effective jump-cut when attacking a running lane. Carter is a short-strider, with quick, choppy steps rather than long strides when running. This allows him to hit his top speed very quickly as well as change direction quickly when running with rhythm. Carter generally has good contact balance in the open field, able to weather glancing blows and run through high arm tackles.
Carter is an asset in the passing game, with upside as both a pass catcher and a pass protector. Carter is a natural “hands” catcher, who frames the ball well when extending to make the reception without letting the ball into his chest plate. He also shows a solid understanding of pass protection schemes as a blocker, with a good understanding of where pressure will come, as well as his role within the scheme. Carter shows good competitive toughness as a blocker, never hesitating to come up and engage defenders. He does so with good pad level and hand placement, allowing him to effectively engage bigger or stronger defenders.
While Carter shows good acceleration, he is generally a one-speed runner who lacks an extra gear or exceptional burst out of his cuts. He can also be tackled relatively easily around the line of scrimmage, despite his low center of gravity and good contact balance. And while Carter has good short-area quickness, he has a tendency to stop and chop his feet when showing some indecision when making a cut, allowing defenders the chance to make plays.
Overall Grade: 7.5 - Has the mental and athletic traits to be a regular and reliable contributor early in his career. Should quickly become a major piece in an offense.
North Carolina running back Michael Carter projects as a primary rotation player — particularly on third downs — in a traditional NFL offense. He has the upside to be a starting and every down running back in an offensive system based in spread concepts and using outside zone running plays.
Carter is undersized, but uses it to his advantage. His quick feet and naturally low center of gravity allow him to change direction quickly, hide behind blockers, and slip through attempted tackles. He will have particular appeal to teams which make heavy use of their running backs in the passing game. Not only is he a natural receiver with good hands and sound fundamentals, he is also a reliable pass protector. Carter did not run a diverse route tree in college, generally being asked to catch swing passes and the occasional wheel or angle route, but he should be able to handle more routes — and the occasional motion to the slot — at the NFL level.
NFL teams might want to make Carter a primary piece in a running back rotation. While he is more compact than undersized, his lack of mass does show up on occasion in college and could become more apparent in the NFL. Likewise, he has had a fair number of touches in college (625 through four years), and teams might want to avoid over-working him.
Carter is at his best when he is able to navigate the trash around the line of scrimmage and find room with which to work. His acceleration, agility, and versatility, would be good fits in offensive schemes which make use of spacing, misdirection, and motion to attack defenses.