Michael Carter II is a young New York Jets building block who warrants more attention
The New York Jets‘ young core is peppered with big-ticket names that offer tantalizing potential. Zach Wilson, Elijah Moore, Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Jermaine Johnson – these are just a few of the guys who headline the Jets’ intriguing nucleus. Running back Michael Carter should also be thrown into that conversation.
But let’s not forget about the other Michael Carter.
Duke cornerback Michael Carter II had himself a promising rookie season in which he showed the ability to become a solid slot cornerback in the NFL. Carter II won the Jets’ starting slot role going into Week 1 and maintained it throughout the season. Going into 2022, he is the only one of the Jets’ three starting cornerbacks from 2021 who is projected to retain his spot as a starter.
Carter II’s rookie-year production was impressive and warrants just as much attention as the numbers produced by the other young prospects on the team. Let’s dig into some of the things that made Carter II’s first season an exciting one.
Strength: Avoiding costly mistakes at an elite level
When a game goes by and you rarely hear the television announcers call a particular cornerback’s name, that’s typically a very good thing. This happened a lot for Carter II in 2021. He rarely made the kind of mistakes that draw the spotlight in his direction.
Carter II played 15 games and logged a total of 777 defensive snaps, including 472 snaps in coverage. Across that large sample size of playing time, Carter II committed just two penalties and allowed only one touchdown reception against his coverage.
This made Carter II one of only three NFL cornerbacks to commit fewer than three penalties and allow fewer than three touchdowns while playing over 400 snaps in coverage. Jourdan Lewis of the Cowboys and Adoree Jackson of the Giants were the other players.
Based on the 2021 league averages at the cornerback position for penalties per snap and touchdowns allowed per snap, Carter II was expected to produce a combined total of 7.33 penalties and allowed touchdowns. He only produced three, meaning he saved 4.33 penalties and touchdowns versus expectation. This mark ranked seventh-best out of 96 qualified cornerbacks:
- Kendall Fuller, Washington: +6.08 (1 penalty, 3 TD over 649 coverage snaps)
- Jourdan Lewis, Dallas: +5.78 (1 penalty, 2 TD over 565 coverage snaps)
- Adoree Jackson, NY Giants: +5.70 (0 penalties, 2 TD over 496 coverage snaps)
- Nate Hobbs, Las Vegas: +4.73 (3 penalties, 1 TD over 562 coverage snaps)
- Byron Jones, Miami: +4.65 (2 penalties, 3 TD over 621 coverage snaps)
- Casey Hayward, Las Vegas: +4.50 (4 penalties, 2 TD over 676 coverage snaps)
- Michael Carter II, NY Jets: +4.33 (2 penalties, 1 TD over 472 coverage snaps)
- Bryce Callahan, Denver: +4.11 (0 penalties, 1 TD over 329 coverage snaps)
- Tyson Campbell, Jacksonville: +3.81 (0 penalties, 4 TD over 503 coverage snaps)
- Elijah Molden, Tennessee: +3.60 (0 penalties, 3 TD over 425 coverage snaps)
Strength: Keeping everything in front of him
The average pass thrown at Carter II only traveled 6.0 yards downfield, which was the seventh-lowest rate among qualified cornerbacks.
What this number tells us is that a lot of the passes thrown in Carter II’s vicinity were screens, dump-offs, and other extremely shallow passes that he had no opportunity to contest at the catch point. In these situations, his only responsibility is to limit the reception to as little yardage as possible – and he did a great job of that.
Carter II allowed an average of 9.9 yards per reception, which ranked 16th-best out of 96 qualified cornerbacks (84th percentile).
Overall, he was targeted 79 times and allowed 60 catches for 595 yards, zero touchdowns, and zero interceptions.
Carter II also did a respectable job of preventing any enormous completions. The longest reception he allowed on the year went for a gain of 36 yards. Of the league’s 96 qualified cornerbacks, 81 of them allowed at least one catch that went for more than 36 yards. Forty-five of them allowed at least one catch for 50+ yards.
Strength: Contributing as a playmaker against the run
Carter II did a solid job of getting involved against the run. He tied for 20th among cornerbacks with seven run-stops. With those seven run-stops coming over 273 snaps against the run (48th), he had a run-stop rate of 2.6%, which placed 25th out of 118 qualified cornerbacks (79th percentile).
Now that we’ve gone into the primary positives of Carter II’s rookie season, I want to highlight a few of the areas where he must improve to make a second-year jump.
Area of emphasis: Sharpening his run defense
While Carter II was a relatively active run defender, he wasn’t totally sharp in that area.
Carter II tied for 18th among cornerbacks with four missed tackles against the run. His missed tackle rate of 16.0% in the run game placed at the 44th percentile among qualifiers – it’s not awful, but it can be cleaned up.
Pro Football Focus’ grading system was not fond of Carter II’s run defense at all. PFF scored Carter II with a run defense grade of 40.4, which placed at the 7th percentile among qualifiers at his position. There were times when he took poor angles and contributed to allowing some big runs to break out.
Related Article: Ranking biggest culprits for NY Jets’ woeful 2021 run defense
Area of emphasis: Taking the ball away
As I highlighted in my recent breakdown that looked at the primary areas of weakness for the Jets’ 2021 defensive rookies, Carter II can work on his ability to produce takeaways.
Carter II did not have any interceptions or forced fumbles in his rookie season. He did have two fumble recoveries, but those are mostly based on luck. Interceptions and forced fumbles are the categories you want to look for individual defenders since they have some degree of control over them.
Only six cornerbacks in the NFL played more defensive snaps than Carter II (777) without recording an interception or a forced fumble.
Based on the league averages for cornerbacks, Carter II was expected to produce a combined total of 2.0 interceptions and forced fumbles over his snap count. With an actual total of zero, he produced -2.0 interceptions and forced fumbles versus expectation, which ranked eighth-worst out of 96 qualified cornerbacks. Teammate Bryce Hall (-2.88) was the NFL’s worst cornerback in this category.
Great in zone, needs improvement in man
Carter II has stark splits between zone coverage and man coverage.
In zone coverage, Carter II was fantastic. He gave up only 6.8 yards per reception in zone, which ranked sixth-best out of 96 qualifiers (95th percentile).
Carter II was targeted 36 times in zone coverage and allowed 32 catches for a fairly modest 218 yards. His longest reception allowed in zone coverage went for only 20 yards, which was shorter than the longest reception allowed in zone coverage by all but four of the other 95 qualified corners.
But in man coverage, Carter II was beaten fairly often. Carter II played man-to-man on 147 snaps and gave up 279 yards, an average of 1.90 yards per cover snap that ranked 88th out of 96 qualifiers (8th percentile). He also ranked 92nd with 19.4 yards allowed per reception. Teams threw at him 27 times and completed 15 passes for 291 yards.
Michael Carter II projects as a reliable starting slot man
Like any young player, there are areas where Carter II must improve, but he showed proficiency in enough areas during his rookie season to inspire confidence that he can be a dependable starter in the slot going forward.
Carter II might never be a playmaking machine who lights up highlight reels, and that’s just fine. Executing his responsibilities with superb consistency is what he does well. Carter II stockpiles reps without making costly mistakes. He’ll make one mistake over a period of time where the average cornerback would have made two mistakes.
That’s where Carter II adds value. He won’t lose you the game. At a position like cornerback where a blunder can cause more damage than almost any other position, that is an extremely valuable trait to have.