New York Jets running back Michael Carter declined in many areas in 2022
Michael Carter was one of the New York Jets‘ most promising young players in the 2021 season. In only 14 games, the fourth-round pick out of North Carolina put together an impressive rookie season that featured 964 yards from scrimmage and 4 touchdowns.
Carter’s second season was a disappointment. While it was understood that his volume totals would decline due to the arrival of Breece Hall, the most important point is that Carter simply was not as effective with the ball in his hands. His efficiency metrics worsened in both the run game and the pass game. Carter dropped from 4.3 yards per carry to 3.5 and from 9.0 yards per reception to 7.0. His ghastly 3.5 YPC ranked last out of 42 qualified running backs (min. 100 carries).
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It felt like Carter was not nearly as electric of a playmaker. In his rookie year, Carter was a ball of energy with plenty of juice. He consistently made the first defender miss and gained more yardage than what was blocked for him. But in 2022, outperforming the blocking was a struggle for him. Oftentimes, he merely picked up what was available and nothing more.
Let’s break down some of the specific areas where Carter took a step back in 2022.
Yards after contact as a rusher
Gaining yards after contact was the bread-and-butter of Carter’s game as a rookie. In 2021, Carter averaged 3.4 yards after contact per rush attempt, according to Pro Football Focus. That ranked eighth-best among the 50 running backs with at least 100 carries.
Carter took a huge step backward in this area. In 2022, Carter dropped to 2.7 yards after contact per rush attempt, which ranked 34th out of 42 running backs with at least 100 carries.
Carter’s decline in this category is largely responsible for his overall production dip. His overall YPC dropped by 0.8 (from 4.3 to 3.5), and of that, 0.7 of it comes from his decline in yards after contact per carry (from 3.4 to 2.7).
Let’s watch some examples of Carter’s struggles at gaining yards after contact.
Here is an example of a play I think Carter would have made in 2021 but struggled with in 2022.
On third-and-1, Carter bounces outside and gets a one-on-one with the linebacker. He just needs to power forward for another foot or two, but he gets completely stonewalled at the point of contact, resulting in the failed third-down attempt. Carter doesn’t get his pads lower than the linebacker, which allows the linebacker to generate more power and stop Carter dead in his tracks.
Despite his small frame (5-foot-8), I thought Carter displayed good power as a rookie. He used his low center of gravity to his advantage, playing with good pad level to grind through defenders. We didn’t see as much of that in 2022.
This next run displays a general lack of power.
I’m not expecting Carter to get a massive gain on this play (terrible rep by Laken Tomlinson), but he has the momentum and space to put his head down, rumble downhill, and churn out a few more yards. Instead, he gets stopped at the exact point he is contacted. It goes down as a 1-yard gain on second-and-6 with 1 yard before contact and 0 yards after contact. This happened too much for Carter. Running backs are expected to gain at least a couple of yards beyond the point where they are first touched.
Here is another concerning play.
Carter has a decent hole through the C-gap and takes it, but he gets slowed up by a weak arm-tackle attempt by the inside defender, which buys time for the outside defender to get back into the play and bring Carter down for a measly 2-yard gain on first down. As a rookie, Carter was effortlessly plowing through these weak arm-tackle attempts. Being unaffected by arm tackles was one of his greatest strengths and the primary reason he gained so many yards after contact. In 2022, he fell victim to soft tackles much more frequently.
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I felt like Carter’s vision was less consistent this year than last. There were a handful of plays throughout the season where I thought the Jets’ offensive line successfully created a hole that Carter could have used for a positive result, but he failed to maximize it, leading to a negative result despite adequate blocking.
One metric that supports this argument is RYOE (Rushing Yards Over Expected), per NFL Next Gen Stats. It uses player tracking data to calculate how many yards the league-average running back would be expected to gain on each play, based on the positioning of all players on the field. This metric has its flaws, but it will certainly punish running backs who struggle with vision, so it seems like a useful tool for this particular topic.
Carter ranked last out of 42 qualified running backs with -0.5 RYOE per carry. This is mostly due to a fairly large number of plays in which Carter’s poor vision caused him to fall short of the gain he was expected to get.
Let’s view some plays that crushed Carter in this metric, each of them exemplifying his poor vision.
This second-and-2 run with 1:07 remaining in the Jets’ Week 11 loss to the Patriots was an absolute killer for New York.
It’s tough to understand what Carter was seeing here. The right side is wide open, and it’s apparent before Carter even secures the ball. The A-gap is uncovered pre-snap. Then, the Jets take care of business post-snap as Connor McGovern (C) drives his man to the left while Dan Feeney and Cedric Ogbuehi prevent backside penetration from the B-gap defender. It’s obvious that Carter should take this hole and charge downhill for the two yards he needs. Instead, Carter runs directly into traffic on the left side and gets stopped short of the marker.
The Jets only needed two yards to pick up the first down and ensure this game would at least be sent to overtime (most likely). Carter’s mistake led to a third-and-1, where Zach Wilson missed a wide-open Elijah Moore to cause a punt. New England returned that punt for the game-winning touchdown.
NFL Next Gen Stats charged Carter with -4 RYOE on this play (actual gain of 1 yard versus expected gain of 5 yards).
On this next play (second-and-10), I think Carter processed things too slowly.
You’ll rarely see a hole more wide open than this one. Carter only gets three yards out of it. While I understand Carter is placed in a tough position to use this hole, as it’s an outside handoff that gives him the ball with his shoulders parallel to the sideline, I still think he should have seen it and taken it quicker than he did. NGS charged Carter with -3 RYOE on this play (actual gain of 3 yards versus expected gain of 6 yards).
On this first-and-10 play, I think Carter is too hesitant on the edge in a situation where he should be more aggressive charging downfield.
Carter sees the defensive end crashing inside and makes the correct decision to take the ball outside. After that, though, I think Carter makes the wrong call. At this point, Carter should see the ample space to the outside and simply try to outrun the safety toward the edge, especially knowing there is plenty of traffic jammed inside. Instead, Carter squares up the safety and tries to make a move on him. It buys time for the defensive end to get back into the play and catch Carter from behind.
NGS charged Carter with -3 RYOE on this play (actual gain of 2 yards versus expected gain of 5 yards).
Forcing missed tackles as a receiver
Carter’s receiving ability was a big part of his appeal in 2021. He caught 36 passes for 325 yards and 16 first downs.
Carter actually caught 5 more passes in 2022, registering 41 receptions. However, despite catching 5 more passes, he recorded 37 fewer yards and 4 fewer first downs. Carter ended up with 41 receptions for 288 yards and 12 first downs, which is much less efficient than 36 receptions for 325 yards and 16 first downs.
Carter’s receptions led to significantly worse results on a per-play basis. In 2021, he averaged 9.0 yards per reception while recording a first down on 44.4% of his receptions. In 2022, he averaged 7.0 yards per reception and moved the chains on just 29.3% of his receptions.
The main reason for Carter’s decreased efficiency as a receiver was his decline in elusiveness.
Carter was a master of making things happen after the catch in 2021. He forced 15 missed tackles on 36 receptions, an average of 0.417 missed tackles forced per reception that ranked fourth-best out of 48 qualified running backs.
This ability was gone in 2022. Carter forced only 5 missed tackles on 41 receptions. He placed 36th out of 43 qualified running backs with 0.122 missed tackles forced per reception.
Here are a few examples of after-the-catch situations in 2022 where Carter failed to make a man miss and likely would have created more yardage if he were placed in the same spot in 2021.
Carter has plenty of things to work on as he aims to bounce back in 2023. He proved he has the potential to be a high-quality running back in 2021, but all of the things that made him appealing flew out the window in 2022. In year three, Carter must figure out how to rediscover his best traits.
Breece Hall is a roster lock for the Jets while Zonovan Knight seems close to a lock after his impressive finish to the 2022 season. Carter will have a lot to prove this offseason as he fights to stand out in a crowded running back room.
I like Michael Carter the person. I was also disappointed with his results. I will say the biggest problem was the O line. I am hoping we go with tackle at pick 1 and center at pick 2. After that, a WR. I am hoping against hope that we get Carr. With a good QB they have to respect the pass. That means less men in the box. Make him an offer that he can’t refuse.
I have to say that while the simple “eye test” showed MC had a down year, some of these metrics are a bit of a stretch. Yards after contact could be comparing breaking an arm tackle and being stonewalled by two D Linemen. I don’t see anything in the failure to get yds after contact clips that are particularly distressing. I think the same can be said of the clips showing no elusiveness after the catch. In each clip he’s hemmed in by at least two defenders.
That said, the “vision” clips are concerning, especially the ones against the Pats.
I am not a fan of the West Coast stretch-style run game. I don’t know how much MC sees the field next year w Breece returning and Bam’s ascension. Both Breece and Bam are stick a foot in the ground and get north & south-type runners. We need to utilize traps, and counters and use Elijah as the jet sweep threat to keep everyone honest.
Often times players regress in year 2. I have read people say that a lot of young players have problems with their 1st NFL off-season and learning how to be a professional in the off-season and deal with all the demands of being a celebrity. It seems many of our young players have regressed in year 2. Becton, Mimms, Zach, E. Moore and MC1. Nothing ever stays the same. Either you or going forwards or backwards. Hopefully, MC1 will have a bounce back year 3 and our rookies from last year we will not have the same issues of a year 2 regression.
I also read somewhere there some who felt he could have put in more work this off-season. I don’t remember where or who but it did stand out to me. It’s all speculation of course however his play indicated something was off.
I know he talked during last off-season about wanting to increase his speed. Maybe he tried to lose weight? Either way this is a critical off-season for MC1. I would love to see more of the MC we saw in 2021 against the Bengals catching balls out of the backfield. Regardless with Hall, Knight, MC1 and even Johnson RB is arguably our lowest priority. Should be a really exciting next week with Carr making the 1st decision.