Jets Rookie Has ‘Exceeded Expectations’ in Starting Role

Michael Carter II

Getty New York Jets nickelback Michael Carter II chases down Christian McCaffrey on September 12, 2021.

When a young football team starts the season 0-3, it’s best to focus on the positives as much as you can.

For the New York Jets, there are plenty of fresh faces to be excited about. This is the youngest team in the NFL by average age and that comes with an obvious learning curve.

We’ve seen the mistakes first-hand but we’ve also seen the moments of brilliance. So many players have experienced ups and downs, whether we’re talking about Zach Wilson or Alijah Vera-Tucker, Michael Carter or Elijah Moore, Jamien Sherwood or Hamsah Nasirildeen, Brandin Echols or Jason Pinnock.

The rookies have all looked exactly like they’re supposed to look, showing immense potential in bursts before letting us all down with a critical error. Carter has been the perfect example of this. The running back has had plays where he literally cannot be tackled, but he’s also had crucial drops in big moments.

‘AVT’ has also traded stellar performances (Week 2) with poor ones (Week 3). The list goes on. There’s only one first-year player that has looked like an NFL veteran in 2021, and he’s done so quietly.

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Jeff Ulbrich Praises Michael Carter II

"We Have a Huge Challenge This Week" Greg Ulbrich Media Availability (9/29) | New York Jets | NFLGreg Ulbrich speaks to the media on Thursday of Titans week. Subscribe to the New York Jets YT Channel: For more Jets NFL Action: #NewYorkJets #Jets #NFL For more Jets action:

Michael Carter II flies so under-the-radar that he’s not even the first player on the roster with his own name. The defensive back nicknamed ‘MC2’ has been everything and more since head coach Robert Saleh drafted him with a plan in mind, and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich felt the need to show him some well-deserved recognition.

“You’re always careful about having expectations for rookies,” Ulbrich began, “especially at the back-end because it’s just such a trial by fire and it’s different — so much different — than the college game back there and the talent that you play against and the scheme that you see and the whole deal, so we were really careful about our expectations for [Carter] and I really feel he’s exceeded our expectations.”

The Jets DC isn’t wrong in his assessment, Carter has been a lockdown nickelback during his first three NFL contests. Harrison Glaser of Take Flight Media noted that MC2 is “only allowing 2.7 yards per reception so far in 2021,” adding that this statistic is “three to five times less than the other Jets DBs.”

That’s remarkable coverage from the Duke product that has filled the role vacated by former fan-favorite Brian Poole.

Pro Football Focus agreed, awarding the rookie with an above-average coverage grade of 72.6 so far. This is the highest coverage grade for all Jets players in 2021, beating out Nasirildeen and Bryce Hall for the top spot. His overall grade is not far behind either, at 71.1, and his run defense grade has risen game by game.

“He’s done an exceptional job back there,” Ulbrich continued, “he’s a guy that gets consistently better. He has become a real NFL corner and a real NFL nickel and I’m excited about his future, I really am.”

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Jets Secondary a Pleasant Surprise

"It's Been A Grind" | Michael Carter II Media Availability | The New York Jets | NFLDB Michael Carter II speaks to the media following training camp practice on Tuesday, August 10, 2021. Subscribe to the New York Jets YT Channel: For more Jets NFL Action: #NewYorkJets #Jets #NFL For more Jets action:

We’ve talked about how the secondary’s strong start has actually been labeled as “elite” by some. That may be a bit of a stretch but they have been a pleasant surprise.

Hall has taken the next step in becoming a true lockdown CB1. He’s not there yet, but you can see that he’s developing into something special. His counterpart Echols also looks the part but as a rookie, he’s been caught with a few too many defensive pass interferences early on.

Then you have MC2 and Javelin Guidry, who have both seen action. The 2020 undrafted prospect has become the utility man of this secondary, subbing in at nickel and corner and performing admirably at both positions.

“I think each guy kind of has their unique skill set,” Ulbrich commented on the secondary, “each guy’s been getting better every week as we play so [rotating players] is something that I’m not accustomed to [at cornerback]… [but CBs coach Tony Odin] is comfortable with it and he’s really helped us all embrace what each guy kind of brings, and it’s going to help in my opinion, getting these guys to develop where they need to be.”

Ironically, the major weakness has been the area that Gang Green felt they were the deepest at to start the season, safety. Injuries to Lamarcus Joyner and Marcus Maye have forced Ulbrich and Saleh to get creative at the position.

As Coach Saleh once put it, “confidence is contagious” and this young cornerback room has all the confidence in the world right now. None more so than Michael Carter II.

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