Michael Carter proved to be a key building block for the Jets during his rookie season.
The former 5–8, 201 lb North Carolina standout led Gang Green after a slow start, and he ended up leading Robert Saleh’s team in scrimmage yards (964), the fourth best among NFL rookies. His final stats included 639 ground yards, a strong 4.35 carry yards, and four touchdowns in 14 games. He added 325 receiving yards.
The argument could be made that if Carter hadn’t suffered an ankle injury against the Dolphins in Week 11 (which cost him three games) and a concussion against the Buccaneers, he could have hit in the 1,000 yard season. . The Jets have not returned more than 1,000 yards since Chris Ivory in 2015.
Whatever the case, it’s been a good year for rookies, and the Jets are going into the off-season knowing they have the key cog in the spare room.
Carter’s best trait as a professional freshman was his ability to overcome contact. He finished with 558 yards after contact, and his 3.8 carry average was the ninth best in the NFL, according to Next Gen Stats. In addition, he averaged 11 tucks (12th in the NFL, according to the Pro Football Reference).
His best game was against the Jaguars in Week 16 when he rushed for 118 yards for 16 carries in Gang Green’s 26–21 win. He was hopeful that the game against the Buccaneers would continue the following week, and in the third play of the game he made an explosive 55-yard run. But later in the first half, he was forced to leave the game due to a concussion.
Overall, though, it was a slow start to the season for Carter as the entire Jets offense came out of the gate stuck in the mud. Quarterback Zach Wilson went through growing pains as a rookie, Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur struggled early in the first year of play, and the offensive line struggled with chemistry, communication, and just blocking defense.
So there were a lot of reasons why Carter didn’t work from the start. In his first six games, he averaged just 3.48 yards per carry with 202 yards and two touchdowns.
“At the beginning of the year, offensively speaking, we were walking a lot and that was something we needed to fix. Because, to be frank, very frank, a lot of these guys come from San Francisco and you watch one of their games and these guys are like a fucking army, their attack moves like a small army,” Carter said after the season finale. “Jets”. against bills to tie the new coaching staff to the 49ers.
Once the offense got used to the system, the performance of the defenders improved.
“I think we handled the ball better,” Carter said of the Jets on the stretch.
So as the season progressed and the attention to detail improved, Carter’s performance doubled. In the next seven games, he had 418 yards (averaging 5.23) with two touchdowns and 194 receiving yards.
What helped accelerate Carter’s rise was LaFleur’s development as a leader, the offensive line worked better together, and improved play from the quarterback position.
One key aspect of his game that Carter needs to focus on in the offseason is offense between tackles. The majority of his yards came from running outside of tackle (426, averaging 4.8). But his average dropped to 3.7 yards per carry as he moved up to mid.
It’s not all on it, however. The inside offensive line needs to create more creases for him. It will get better too, as the inside run blocking will improve and it will learn to better attack the inside racing tracks.
Carter runs dynamic off the tackle, and this is his strength. Once he improves his inner game, he can become a top level running back.
Overall, the Jets gained a lot of value when they selected Carter in the fourth round (107th overall), and he showed he could be number one on the Gang Green team in the future.
If he can stay healthy in his sophomore year, his goal should be 1,000 yards on the ground.
JETS BEGINNER REWIND
— Zach Wilson, QB
— Elijah Moore, WR