The nickelback training camp battle should be a fun one to watch for the New York Jets in August, but one rookie may have a leg-up on the competition.
During episode four of Flight 2021: An Offseason with the New York Jets, head coach Robert Saleh told Michael Carter II that the organization had “a plan for [him] in this defense.”
Saleh continued: “Your combination of speed, athleticism, your man coverage ability, your instincts, your smarts, all of it. We have a genuine plan, you’re going to contribute this year, man.”
Does this mean Carter II has the inside track at the slot defensive back role?
It’s possible, but contribute doesn’t necessarily mean start, even though that certainly seems to be the plan.
Beat reporter Connor Hughes of The Athletic wrote that “the Jets clearly want [Carter] to seize the job” back on June 2, 2021. The Duke product had been getting a ton of first-team reps in OTAs at the time and Hughes explained that Gang Green had a “very, very high grade on him” during the draft process.
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Scouting Defensive Back Michael Carter II
A Joe Douglas draft pick through and through, Carter II is known for his versatility and leadership traits above all else as a 2020 team captain.
His skills are nothing to sneeze at either, making his home in the slot on 49.5% of snaps in 2020 and 68.5% in 2019 according to Michael Nania of Jets X-Factor. In that position, Nania found that Carter II carried a 48.4% completion percentage against last season with a 56.1 opposing passer rating.
Pretty shutdown numbers if you ask me, and two reasons for that are his speed and intelligence.
The former Blue Devil ran a 4.30-second 40-yard dash and a 6.81-second three-cone drill. He’s a shorter athlete at 5-foot-10 but he has a solid vertical leap of 35.5 inches to make up for it.
Beat reporter DJ Bien-Aime of the New York Daily News actually stated that Carter II might be the fastest defensive back on the Jets roster, although Javelin Guidry probably still holds that title.
His football IQ helps too and generally puts him in an advantageous position on most downs, but when he needs it, his lightning-quick recovery and closing speed on the ball both come in handy. A perfect example of this can be seen in the clip below.
While his man coverage ability might be his greatest asset on the field, his biggest concerns are probably his size and his tackling of pro-level playmakers.
Carter II may never be considered a big-hitter, but his form-tackling technique has improved during his collegiate career. He’ll always do his best to wrap-up players around the ankles.
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Game Has Steadily Progressed
Another encouraging trait from the rookie has been his capacity to learn.
Carter II got better and better during his time at Duke. During his final three seasons, he tallied four interceptions and 21 passes defended.
He also had more tackles and higher coverage grades during his junior and senior campaigns.
It’s been the same mindset for the defensive back at Florham Park. Carter II knows that he’s going to make mistakes and that learning from them is the best way to grow as a player.
You’d expect nothing less from an athlete with the proven discipline of the Duke graduate. Nania broke down his career penalty rate to 2.8 penalties per every 1,000 snaps in college, which totally torched the NFL league average of 5.9.
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Who Else Could Play Nickel?
The rookie known as “MCII” feels like the perfect scheme fit for this defense, but he’s not the only player on this Jets roster that was built for the role.
As we’ve discussed in the past, Guidry and Brandin Echols are still the top competitors to man the slot on coverage downs after Carter II.
There is a fourth option that many fans have gotten behind though, re-signing veteran Brian Poole.
The Jets 2019 and 2020 nickelback is currently still available and probably wouldn’t cost much at this stage of free agency.
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