During the New York Jets behind the scenes docuseries, Flight 2021: An Offseason with the New York Jets, we heard the organization admit that they never expected to get their hands on rookies Elijah Moore and Michael Carter after the trade up for Alijah Vera-Tucker.
“When we moved up for Vera-Tucker, the assumption was that we weren’t going to get Michael Carter, the running back,” head coach Robert Saleh explained candidly. You see, the Green and White brass expected Carter to go in the third round, and they had just traded both third-round picks for the top-ranked offensive guard.
He continued: “It was cool because we didn’t have a third-round pick but we were glued to the screen just watching pick after pick after pick… he would have been a serious discussion in the third round and to be able to get [him] in the fourth round was a gift to us.”
Apparently, the North Carolina product’s former college football coach agrees.
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Mack Brown Praises Carter
“You’re getting a great player that was under drafted,” Brown told Kokell, “he’s better than that fourth round that he got.”
Brown elaborated: “He’s smart, he’s tough, he’s physical. He’s got tremendous patience but he can go from here to there very quickly, and unlike most, he can take it the distance right after that [to] score. And he has tremendous hands out of the backfield.”
It’s not all that surprising that an ex-coach would praise a former player but Brown’s also not the first to rave about Carter.
Jets scouting and coaching pegged him as “an extremely tough and physical runner with added ability as a blocker” that has “break-away speed in the open field.” They also touted him as an “instinctive runner with good vision and quickness on his cuts.”
Don’t forget Carter’s “magnetic personality as a teammate.”
Not convinced by more coach-speak? Well then let me direct you to the beat reporters that have seen the half-back in action at OTAs.
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‘Potential Camp Star’ Could Become Jets ‘1A’ RB
The Athletic‘s Connor Hughes has been impressed by Carter since the early days of voluntary practice back in late May.
Early on, the beat reporter wrote that “it won’t be long” before the rookie takes over as the Jets starter at running back. Now Hughes has doubled down in his most recent piece, labeling the UNC playmaker as a “potential camp star.”
“There won’t be a bell cow for that reason [Mike LaFleur’s rotational style], but keep an eye on Carter as the eventual 1A in the group,” he predicted.
Further analysis from Hughes: “The rookie out of UNC is so elusive with the ball in his hands and a challenge for any defender to bring down in the open field. He needs to learn some decisiveness when picking a hole, but that will come with experience. The thing that separates Carter, though, is his catching ability. He’s essentially a receiver out of the backfield. Aside from the many impressive over-the-shoulder catches he made on swing routes this summer, he had a ridiculous one-handed catch that erupted the sideline.”
These types of compliments make me immediately think of Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey, two of the most dynamic pass-catching RBs in the game today. Both have that similar breakaway speed and frustrating elusiveness that drives defenders nuts.
Never before can I remember a Jets rookie class with so many highly regarded prospects. Carter has actually been overshadowed at times because of that, and that’s a credit to what Joe Douglas has accomplished in 2021.
Carter Catches up With Bien-Aime
“The former North Carolina star has firmly established himself at the center of a wide-open running back competition,” wrote DJ Bien-Aime, Jets beat reporter for the New York Daily News after a one-on-one with Carter.
“My plan is to contribute in a big way going into the year. We have a really good running back room. I feel like people write these guys off because they don’t have the most popular name… I think competition is going to turn us all into better players,” replied the rookie.
He did admit that he wants to be the starter to Bien-Aime, joking that he would be a “fool” to act as if that wasn’t true.
Carter actually split carries with fellow NFL rookie Javonte Williams in college and still managed over 1,500 scrimmage yards in 11 games (2020), so he has plenty of experience in a tandem backfield or rotation.
The runner told Bien-Aime that playing alongside Williams was the “opportunity of a lifetime,” adding that they “never argued about touches, carries,” they “just wanted to win.”
Although he seems humble overall, there was one area that the rookie wasn’t afraid to pat himself on the back. “I can really catch. I’m a versatile back, I aim to be that type of player, especially in today’s game,” Carter voiced boldly. He noted that Kamara and McCaffrey are his two favorite role models in this regard and I swear I read Bien-Aime’s interview AFTER coming to that conclusion myself.
This is such a fun and informative Q&A with Bien-Aime and I encourage all Jets fans to check it out! I only scratched the surface in this article, but here’s one story from Carter that stood out about when he first realized he was a special football talent.
“Honestly, I remember it was before middle school. … I told my dad [before one game] dang I don’t feel like getting tackled, it’s raining outside and we are about to play the game in the mud. The field is bad. I was like dad, I don’t feel like getting tackled. He was like don’t. And I didn’t. I had seven carries, seven touchdowns. After I was like hold up now, I can do something now (laughs).”