Evaluating the New York Jets’ running backs through six games
Michael Carter and Ty Johnson have played a combined 341 offensive snaps this season, making up 89.2% of the snaps that the New York Jets have allocated to the running back position. They are the two top dogs in New York’s backfield.
Which player deserves to be featured more heavily in Mike LaFleur‘s committee backfield? Who has been the better player thus far?
Let’s dig into the numbers behind Carter and Johnson’s performances through six games.
Carter and Johnson have each played in all six games and are close in overall playing time. Carter has played 179 snaps (29.8 per game, 48% of all snaps) and Johnson has played 162 snaps (27.0 per game, 43% of all snaps).
However, Carter has been taking over the No. 1 role in recent weeks. In each of the past three games, Carter played over 50% of the snaps while Johnson played less than 40%.
Carter played a season-high 72% of the Jets’ snaps against the Patriots in Week 7 (47 snaps total). Meanwhile, Johnson played a season-low 32% (21 total).
Both Carter and Johnson have been unproductive rushers in the box score. Carter has carried the ball 58 times for 202 yards (3.5 average) and two touchdowns while Johnson has carried the ball 31 times for 101 yards (3.3 average) and one touchdown.
Beyond the box score, one of these two rushers has been solid while the other is struggling.
Here is a look at Carter and Johnson’s numbers and ranks in two elusiveness categories – yards after contact per carry and missed tackles forced per carry (both via Pro Football Focus):
- Carter: 2.81 yards after contact per carry (31st of 58 RBs), 0.242 missed tackles forced per carry (7th of 58)
- Johnson: 2.10 yards after contact per carry (57th of 58), 0.161 missed tackles forced per carry (43rd of 58)
Carter has been a machine when it comes to evading tacklers. He has forced 14 missed tackles on 58 rushing attempts for an elite average of 0.242.
Those broken tackles have yet to be converted by Carter into a massive amount of after-contact yardage, but he remains close to the median in that category despite not having any enormous home-run plays to inflate his numbers. His longest run of the season is only 14 yards.
Johnson has struggled to create his own offense. His average 2.1 yards after contact ranks second-worst out of 58 qualified backs, beating out only D’Andre Swift of the Lions. He has forced five missed tackles over 31 carries.
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In the box score, Carter and Johnson have produced similarly as receivers.
Carter has caught 17 of 23 targets for 131 yards (5.7 yards per target), no touchdowns, and eight first downs.
Johnson has caught 12 of 20 targets for 116 yards (5.8 yards per target), no touchdowns, and seven first downs.
Just like in the run game, Carter takes a sizable edge when you dig a little deeper.
Carter’s 131 yards have come over 89 snaps in which he ran a route, while Johnson’s 116 yards have come over 92 snaps. That gives Carter an average of 1.47 yards per route run (17th out of 52 RBs) and Johnson an average of 1.26 yards per route run (29th of 52).
The elusiveness showcased by Carter in the ground game has translated to the aerial game. Carter has forced six missed tackles over his 17 receptions, an average of 0.353 per reception that ranks 12th-best out of 52 qualified running backs.
Johnson has forced two missed tackles over his 12 receptions, ranking 38th out of 52 backs with 0.167 missed tackles forced per reception.
When it comes to drops, both players can improve. Johnson has three drops, giving him a drop rate of 20.0% that is tied for the second-worst among qualified running backs. Carter has two drops and a 10.5% drop rate, ranking 17th-worst.
Most of Carter’s productivity has come on check-downs, while he has struggled with designed touches in the passing game.
Carter has been targeted on five screens, catching four of those passes for only 12 yards and zero first downs.
On non-screen targets, Carter has produced 6.6 yards per target and a first-down rate of 44.4%, which are great marks for a running back. In 2020, the NFL averages for running backs in those two categories (on all targets – including screens) were 5.7 and 24.9%, respectively.
Carter and Johnson both need to improve their pass protection, but Carter is closer to competency in this facet than Johnson is.
Johnson has allowed three pressures over 30 snaps in pass protection, a rate of 10.0%.
That is actually a tad lower than the 2020 positional average of 10.4%, but the problem is that when Johnson loses, he loses very badly. Johnson has given up one sack and one quarterback hit. The quality of his losses is reflected by his Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grade of 37.9, which ranks 49th out of 67 qualified running backs.
These struggles are nothing new for Johnson. His composite career pass-blocking grade entering 2021 was 32.2.
Carter has allowed only one pressure over 21 snaps in protection for a good pressure rate of 4.8%. However, he did have an illegal use of hands/hands to the face penalty on a block against Atlanta. His PFF pass-blocking grade of 50.7 ranks 37th out of 67.
It is interesting that the Jets have given Johnson more pass-blocking snaps than Carter (30 to 21) despite Johnson’s reputation as a poor pass-blocker and Carter’s solid pass-blocking in college. Carter should be getting more snaps in this role than Johnson.
In the Jets’ most recent game against the Patriots, they began trending in the right direction here. Carter played five pass-blocking snaps and Johnson played zero.
Altogether, it is clear that Carter has been a superior running back to Johnson. Carter is playing solidly while Johnson is performing at a below-average level.
Based on the recent changes in playing time for each player, it appears that Mike LaFleur and the Jets are adjusting accordingly.
Michael Carter is slowly seizing full control of the top spot on the Jets’ running back depth chart.