We don’t need to use the term “underrated” with Michael Carter II anymore
It feels like every discussion about New York Jets cornerback Michael Carter II involves labeling him as an “underrated” player.
I think that’s a disservice to him.
The term “underrated” is somewhat of a backhanded compliment for pro athletes. It roughly translates to “this player isn’t quite great enough to deserve a heaping amount of praise from me but I still think he is still pretty good.”
That does not apply to Carter II. It is time to start labeling him as exactly what he is: A star slot cornerback.
Elite air-yardage prevention
Think long and hard: What is the last big play you remember Carter II allowing?
Come up with anything yet?
If you can’t remember, you are forgiven, because there are very few options. The man simply does not cough up big plays. His consistency in coverage is elite.
In particular, Carter II is fantastic at preventing big plays over the top. Providing downfield coverage that is nothing short of dominant, Carter II is a master at keeping everything in front of him.
Carter II has allowed just 95 air yards across his 344 snaps in coverage this season. That is an average of just 0.276 air yards allowed per coverage snap, ranking third-best in the NFL out of 85 qualified cornerbacks (minimum 250 coverage snaps):
- K’Waun Williams, DEN (0.243) – 71 air yards on 292 coverage snaps
- Jaycee Horn, CAR (0.263) – 95 on 361
- Michael Carter II, NYJ (0.276) – 95 on 344
- Desmond King II, HOU (0.372) – 119 on 320
- Patrick Peterson, MIN (0.389) – 208 on 535
- Sauce Gardner, NYJ (0.389) – 182 on 468
- Taron Johnson, BUF (0.402) – 186 on 463
- James Bradberry, PHI (0.410) – 199 on 485
- Greg Newsome II, CLE (0.426) – 145 on 340
- Jamel Dean, TB (0.436) – 203 on 466
Air yards: Yards gained from the line of scrimmage to the point of the catch.
Just 95 air yards in 12 games: that’s staggering when you break it down. Carter II is yielding a smidgen under 8 air yards per game. Think about it – in an NFL game, it seems like someone gets beat on a catch more than 8 yards downfield on every other play. That is an entire day’s work for Carter II.
This is extremely impressive considering the environment Carter II plays in. With the stellar duo of Gardner and Reed on the outside, you would think that teams would try to avoid them and instead look Carter II’s way for big plays down the field. And you know what? They do. Carter II finds himself isolated with tough downfield matchups quite often. But he just shuts them down on a routine basis.
Matched up here against tight end T.J. Hockenson, Carter II completely smothers Hockenson on the curl route. Kirk Cousins gives Hockenson a look but moves to the next read due to the tightness of Carter II’s coverage. The Jets’ coverage, thanks much to Carter II, buys time for the pass rush to get home.
Here is another matchup against a tight end. Carter II initially plays the curl/flat zone, but after Lamar Jackson extends the play outside of the pocket, Mark Andrews improvises and carries his route downfield. Carter II does a great job of recognizing it as he matches Andrews and follows him downfield. He is completely abandoning his zone to do this – that is top-notch awareness. So many times in this situation, the defender will just sit there and stare at the QB. Carter II doesn’t fall into the trap. He covers the threat in his area rather than just covering a patch of grass. Carter II provides tight coverage on Andrews to force an incompletion.
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Matching up in press coverage against Stefon Diggs on a crossing route, Carter II creates a tight window as he does a nice job attaching to Diggs’s back hip. Carter II knows he has inside help from the safety, so he focuses on playing the outside and funneling Diggs to the help. Carter II stays tight to Diggs all the way through and helps to force the incompletion. I’m not sure if Josh Allen misfired or if he intentionally threw it away, but either way, Carter II’s coverage contributed to making it happen.
In soft press against Jerry Jeudy, Carter II stays square as he backpedals and is able to completely shut down Jeudy’s out route. Brett Rypien tries to target Jeudy anyway, but Carter II’s coverage makes it an extremely difficult throw, prompting Rypien to miss.
Minimizing TDs and penalties
As shown by the numbers and film, Carter II’s ability to disallow air yardage is tremendous. But it is not the only elite trait he brings to the table.
Carrying over his success in these departments from his rookie season, Carter II continues to be outstanding at minimizing his mistakes in two areas: allowing touchdowns and committing penalties.
Carter II has been tagged with one touchdown allowed and one penalty this season. It’s tied for the lowest combined total of touchdowns and penalties among the 64 cornerbacks who have played at least 500 defensive snaps this season.
The one touchdown was hardly even Carter II’s fault. Against the Bengals in Week 3, Carter II was beaten by Tyler Boyd on a catch that was likely going to be stopped for a gain of about 10-15 yards, but Jets safety Jordan Whitehead banged into Carter II and allowed Boyd to escape the tackle. Boyd ran free and scored a 56-yard touchdown that got charged to Carter II’s stat line.
Regardless, Carter II continues to build an impressive body of work in these departments. As a rookie, Carter II was charged with one touchdown and two penalties in 15 games. That means Carter II has only two touchdowns and three penalties to his name over 27 career games.
Put it this way: Carter II either allows a touchdown or commits a penalty once every 5.4 games.
Activity in the run game
As a cherry on top of his excellence in coverage, Carter II provides high-level contributions to the Jets’ run defense.
Carter II is tied for 11th among cornerbacks with 7 run stops this season. He holds that ranking despite placing 75th among cornerbacks with only 146 snaps played against the run. Carter II’s run-stop rate of 4.8% ranks fifth-best among 106 qualified cornerbacks (min. 100 run defense snaps).
Michael Carter II is a star slot cornerback
Instead of always saying Michael Carter II is underrated, let’s just properly rate him as the star that he is.
The Jets’ pass coverage is the primary reason for their success as a team this season. They are allowing the second-lowest opposing passer rating in the NFL (77.5).
For the Jets to accomplish that in spite of inconsistent play at the safety position, it takes more than just two elite cornerbacks. New York has three of them.
From here on out, it’s time to ensure we refer to the Jets’ cornerback trio as the heart and soul of the team – not just the duo.