2021 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: Michael Carter (Fantasy Football)

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The University of North Carolina running backs are getting a ton of love this year as we look forward to the 2021 NFL Draft. Don’t get me wrong, Javonte Williams looks like the real deal, but not enough people are talking about Michael Carter, Williams’ backfield mate at UNC. How’s his college production profile look? What does he show on tape? And, what’s missing from his game?

Editors Note: This article is part of our Rookie Profile series going on until the 2021 NFL Draft. For more on each rookie, check out Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the brand-new UDK+ for 2021.

Production Profile
Games Rush Att Rush Yards Yards/Att Rush TD Receptions Receiving Yards Rec TD
2017 11 97 559 5.8 8 11 100 1
2018 9 84 597 7.1 2 25 135 1
2019 13 177 1003 5.7 3 21 154 2
2020 11 156 1245 8.0 9 25 267 2

We all know about Najee Harris and Travis Etienne, but Michael Carter very quietly had one of the best seasons of any back in the country in 2020 as a senior. Carter led the ACC in rushing ahead of the aforementioned Etienne and his teammate, Javonte Williams, and he also led the NCAA in yards per attempt in 2020 (min. 100 rushing attempts), making Carter one of the most efficient backs in the country. How did he pile up back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with less than 200 rushing attempts in any season? Yards after contact. Per PFF, Carter’s 4.47 yards after contact per attempt bested Travis Etienne (3.84), Najee Harris (3.26), Trey Sermon (4.07), and Kenneth Gainwell (3.45), among others.

I love that Carter’s production profile shows growth every season both on the ground and as a receiver through the air while Carter was at Chapel Hill; this is a potential sign that Carter is still improving and/or a coachable player. Coaches at the NFL level will love that Carter lost just three fumbles over the course of his four-year career.

There are two knocks on Carter’s profile, however. The first – his 21% dominator rating ranks well below the other top backs in this class. The second – he accounted for just 27% of UNC’s backfield touches in 2020 and just 48% of the team’s rushing yards.

Measurables
Height Weight 40-yard dash (HS) Wingspan Hand Size 247Sports
5’8″ 202 lbs. 4.71 73.5″ 9″ 3-star recruit

*Measurements taken from weigh ins at Senior Bowl

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The biggest knock you’ll hear on Carter is his lack of size, but it’s encouraging that he came in at just over 200 lbs. after playing below 200 while at UNC. Even still, when you compare Carter to other backs in this class, his weight is a little low relative to where he will likely play as a pro. I anticipate the NFL team who drafts Carter to make it a point of emphasis for him to added a few extra pounds of muscle to further improve durability.

Carter’s 4.71 40-yard dash from high school might sound a bit concerning, but he definitely plays faster on tape. Assuming he participates in UNC’s pro day, I anticipate we’ll see a much better number. One other mark from his high school testing that really speaks to what shows up on tape is Carter’s time in the 20-yard shuttle. His 4.18 second 20-yard shuttle as a high school senior is right in line with the 4-year average for a corner back at the NFL Scouting Combine per Todd McShay. In other words, Carter’s agility and quickness is well above average, and that is by far his best attribute on tape.

What’s On Tape

Games Viewed: N.C. State (2019), Clemson (2019), Syracuse (2020), Duke (2020), Miami (2020), Virginia Tech (2020)

1. Agility and change of direction quickness are Carter’s top attributes. He sets up defenders well with his body angle to then BOOM, sticks his foot in the ground to get up field. 

Michael Carter forced the 5th most missed tackles and ran for the most 15+ yard runs in the country last season, and when you watch him play, it makes complete sense. I love Carter’s ability to make people miss routinely on tape, something that should really bode well for his play making ability at the next level. As we’ve already established, Carter isn’t the fastest back in this class, but he’s twitchy and quick enough to make would be tacklers look silly.

2. Despite being a bit undersized relative to the other top backs in this class, Carter gets low at the point of contact to pick up yards after contact. His power is above average relative to his size.

Don’t get it twisted. Just because Carter is a little smaller than the other top running backs doesn’t mean he won’t lower his shoulder to pick up a tough extra two or three yards. When given the choice, Carter appears to use his agility more often than power to create with the ball in his hands, but as a four-year player in college, Carter is a smart back. He can identify when it’s appropriate to try to shake a defender to pick up an extra 10+ yards or when it makes sense to lower the shoulder and pick up an extra few for the first down.

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3. Carter is an accomplished pass catcher and a mismatch for linebackers. 

Carter was targeted 80 times over his final three seasons at UNC, and he caught 71 of those balls for a 88.75% catch rate. An accomplished pass catching back, Carter looks natural catching passes out of the backfield, especially against linebackers. Thanks to his fantastic lateral agility and start/stop ability, from there Carter is dynamic and tough to bring down. He wins consistently in 1-on-1 coverage against college LBs.

What’s NOT on Tape

1. While Carter is a great pass catching back, his pass protection will need to improve in order to earn the trust of his NFL QB and coaches. 

This isn’t to say Carter can’t pass protect or isn’t willing to block – he is. However, there are inconsistencies in this facet of his game. At times, he squares his shoulders up and gets low, looking natural in this role. In other instances, Carter’s lack of size to hold up against a blitzing linebacker who already has a head of steam are evident, putting his QB in rough spots. When his pass protection fails, it’s usually because Carter tries to dip his shoulder low to “hit” the defender rather than squaring up to engage.

2. Carter’s lack of top-end speed may leave yards on the field at the NFL level.

Carter is most effective when he’s running behind his blockers then using his suddenness and decisiveness to get up field. He isn’t the type of back that’s going to be able to get to the edge with ease and then burst up field. As a result, I think one of the biggest factors for Carter in the NFL is offensive line play. If he lands in a zone scheme where Carter can be selective at hit the hole at the right time, he’ll succeed, but don’t expect Carter to burst to the edge out run anyone.

2021 Fantasy Outlook

I could easily see Michael Carter dropping out of the second round of the NFL Draft, given that NFL organizations may have concerns regarding his size. However, I do expect Carter to be an early day three selection so he’ll have decent draft capital but not enough for him to warrant starter consideration for most teams out of the gate. That’s not to say Carter can’t take over a lead role in 2021 depending on the depth chart in front of him, but for redraft purposes, he profiles as a bench/depth back add at the end of your roster, at least to start the season.

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In dynasty rookie drafts, Michael Carter looks like an absolute steal in the 2nd round. Carter profiles as a back that would most likely go in the late first rounds most years. However, with all of the insane talent at the wide receiver position and the elite QB prospects in this 2021 class, look for Carter to get pushed down draft boards into the middle of the second round. I’m happy to invest in a back like Carter who has enough upside to create even in a limited role.

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