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NFL Draft

Michael Carter: 2021 NFL Draft Prospect Interview Series

  • The Draft Network
  • March 22, 2021
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Today’s NFL offenses love versatile playmakers who can line up all over the field and score every time they touch the ball. That’s why the entire league should be clamoring for North Carolina’s Michael Carter on draft weekend.

One of the most explosive weapons in this year’s class, Carter recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his impressive week at the Senior Bowl, how playing at North Carolina prepared him for what’s next, and why he’s the most dangerous running back in the draft.

JM: You had a terrific career at North Carolina, but 2019 and 2020 were exceptionally special seasons for you. In that timeframe, you totaled more than 2,600 yards and scored 16 total touchdowns. What changed for you in 2019 and how did you keep that momentum going into 2020?

MC: I feel like I learned so much and took so many steps forward throughout that time. I’ve always felt like knowledge is power. 

We had a new strength staff and they helped me out a lot. There’s so much that went into my production. I can’t give enough credit to my support staff. I did the work on the field but I had so many helping hands along the way.

JM: One of the things that jump out at me about your game when I turn the tape on is how your decision-making as a runner leads to a lot of your production. How did you develop that area of your game?

MC: I feel like that’s something I’ve always been good at. Ever since I started playing the game of football, vision and decision-making are two traits that I’ve always had. As I got older, I’ve always found creative ways to work on that.

JM: You’ve carried the ball 333 times over the past two years, but you’ve also averaged roughly two catches per game. How important is that versatility to the value of a running back nowadays?

MC: I think it’s definitely important.

A lot of people say the game is evolving, but if you look back to when players like Marshall Faulk and Matt Forte were making plays in the passing game, it’s always been there. I know guys like Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey have made it more popular today, but I feel like it’s always been important to catch the ball. As a running back, you have to be able to receive the ball in so many different ways.

JM: What do you think is the best game you ever played in a North Carolina jersey?

MC: Man, that’s tough. That’s for y’all to decide (laughs). I don’t know.

I feel like everybody is gonna say Miami because I had the most yards in that game. As far as complete games go, I’ve played better overall games than that Miami game. I had games where I blocked, ran, and was more efficient in the passing game.

In terms of a complete game where I did all three things, I thought Clemson was a better game. I blocked well in that game, I ran the ball well. I caught a ball or two as well.

I’ve had some good games. Don’t get me wrong, that Miami game was a good one. Virginia Tech was another one. Wake Forest was a good one. All three of those games were this year. NC State was another good game for me in 2020. I played well against Virginia as a freshman. I had a big game against Duke during my sophomore year. 

Overall, I understand why people would say Miami. Now that I think about it, I might say Miami too (laughs). It was just such a special night. I’m from Florida too, so it meant a lot.

JM: That was such a special game for you and you mentioned several others that impressed me on tape. That very first question I asked you, you gave a lot of credit to other people in your life for helping you develop as a player. What’s the biggest lesson you ever learned from one of your coaches?

MC: Every coach at North Carolina taught us not to dive for the end zone. Unless you absolutely have to, don’t dive for the end zone.

One of the biggest things I ever learned from [former North Carolina running backs coach and current Alabama running backs coach] coach Robert Gillespie, he taught me that the game of football has a life. You’re probably wondering what I mean by that. Sometimes, you might see a guy that doesn’t treat the game the right way. There are guys that do all kinds of things off the field or maybe he’s an excessive celebrator on the field. 

I was taught to treat the game with respect. It comes back around. If you treat the game the right way, this game will treat you with respect. Just respect the game.

How you live your life off the field directly translates to how you play on the field. You get back what you put in. How you treat yourself off the field reflects in how you act on the field. 

If you’re going to class and keeping up with your studies off the field, you’re going to put the same type of time and effort into football. That’s how you wanna act. You can’t fake it. That’s who you are. You’re creating good habits.

I talk about it because I’ve seen it. There are very few people that can bulls**t off the field and still play a great game on Saturday or Sunday. You have to be consistent in everything you do.

JM: That’s one of the best answers I’ve ever received. I can tell that you’re consistent in everything you do.

North Carolina is well known for deploying a scheme that is friendly to play in. What can you tell me about that scheme, and how it prepared you for the next level?

MC: I played in two different schemes at North Carolina. With coach Larry Fedora, we called it “The Fed Spread.” We had an Air Raid with Phil Longo. They were different in their own ways. 

In terms of the spread, I feel like we did so many different things under coach Fedora. People didn’t always give us enough credit because we still had to learn that scheme. People think it was so easy to learn or whatever but I don’t pay attention to that. If you said that, it’s because you haven’t played football. I get it.

The scheme allowed us to play fast more than anything. We had a lot of fun. If you can play fast, you have a better chance of winning. If you’re playing fast, you’re having fun. It’s really easy to win that way.

JM: I loved watching you guys on offense. You went down to the Senior Bowl back in January. What was that experience like?

MC: It was crazy. I’ve always wanted to play in that game.

It’s funny how life works out. I had a goal to leave North Carolina as a junior. I’m so glad I didn’t do that because I have my degree now.

I used to go to the Senior Bowl game. I lived less than two hours away from Mobile. I’m from Navarre, Florida. It’s so close to Mobile. I was able to go to the game more than a few times as a young kid. 

Being able to play in that game, it was emotional for me and my family. We used to go watch that game together as a family. We were spectators but now we have a dog in the fight. It meant a lot to everybody.

JM: I love hearing that. What do you think is the impression you left on the teams in attendance?

MC: Not only did I do well in the interviews and the teams got to know me on a more personal level, but on the field, I feel like I proved that what I did this season and last season wasn’t a fluke. 

I can run the ball. I’m an every-down back. I can catch the ball and make things happen after the catch. I can also pick up a playbook quickly. I’m a great teammate. I’m a leader. I’m somebody that you want on your team. I feel like every team should want me. That’s the impression I left in Mobile.

JM: I’m all the way with you on that. Another thing I notice about your game, you have tremendous burst and you’re extremely elusive. You make timely cuts. What is it about your game that allows you to string all of that together in the open field so effortlessly?

MC: I’ve been working on that for a long time. I feel like my dad played a big part in that from a training aspect. We used to work out early in the morning. We woke up early and got to work. I was like 10 or 11 years old. We were up and we got after it.

He did a great job. He knew what it took. He had some friends that allowed us to use the sandhills to run on (laughs). He stayed connected to the game of football. We would run, train, and do whatever it took. Whether we were on the field, in the gym, or in our own backyard, we worked like crazy.

That’s how it was with my dad and with my two brothers. I give them a lot of credit. They were always my best friends growing up. All of them are athletes. A lot of them played D-I football or baseball. We played growing up. We always competed and got after it. We had fun doing it. Time flies when you’re having fun. We didn’t think anything of it. We were just kids then.

JM: That’s the right way to approach it. I keep going back to how much of an exciting playmaker you are on tape. That makes me curious, who did you admire growing up? Do you model your game after anybody?

MC: That’s a good question. Growing up, I used to just watch running backs all day long. I would go on YouTube, my dad had some VHS tapes as well. This is what I would do all day long: Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, and Emmitt Smith. Especially Emmitt Smith because he’s from Florida too. I loved watching every running back. Warrick Dunn is another one.

The guy that I really wanted to be like growing up was Michael Vick though.

JM: Man, who didn’t wanna be like Michael Vick growing up.

MC: Right? We even had the Michael Vick cleats growing up (laughs). We had the LaDanian Tomlinson cleats too and we would just switch them on and off constantly. We were rocking those.

When it comes to modeling my game after somebody, I watch a lot of film. I love to watch how guys play the game but I feel like I have my own style. The guy that I watch the most is Alvin Kamara. My running back coach at UNC [Robert Gillespie] actually coached Kamara at Tennessee. We would watch a lot of Kamara cutups together. I watch him on my own time too.

People don’t give him enough credit for the way he runs because he’s such a good pass-catcher, but he’s also a very good runner. He’s such an efficient runner. I feel like people don’t really see that. They’re caught up in how many receiving yards he gets which is obviously amazing, but he’s such a great player overall.

Christian McCaffrey is another one. Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott also come to mind. The way Derrick Henry falls forward, he’s special. Aaron Jones lately, him too. He’s been playing at such a high level. I really like watching some Devonta Freeman too. He was so quick and efficient. I don’t even know how he does that sometimes. 

Those are some of the guys that I love to watch tape on. I watch a lot of football, bro. I just love football.

JM: I can tell how passionate you are about the game. What’s your favorite part of playing the running back position?

MC: It’s fun. It’s fun to play football and it’s fun to play running back because not everybody can do it. The receivers are asked to block and catch. The quarterback is asked to throw the ball. Offensive linemen are asked to block. Running backs are asked to block, run and catch. If you have a good arm, we may throw the ball on a trick play too (laughs). We have the ability to do everything. It’s the most unique position.

It’s like catching a baseball. You’re gonna get the ball on every single play. As a running back, we’re a part of the game on every single play in one way or another. I think that’s the coolest part of football. There’s such a legacy at the running back position.

JM: I love that. You were very much involved in a timeshare in the backfield with Javonte Williams. How do you think that experience can serve you well going forward?

MC: What I felt was most beneficial about that situation is that I’m so fresh going into the league. You have guys going into the league that had anywhere from 800 to 1,000 carries in college. I don’t think I even had 600 carries in my four years, but I led the team in rushing yards three times. This year, I led the ACC in rushing. 

As I get ready to head to the league, I feel like I’m right where I need to be in terms of experience, tread, and things of that nature. I split carries with someone every single year. Whether I received the bulk of those carries or not, I was splitting them with someone. I split carries but I still made a huge impact. 

At the end of the day, it’s not about how much time you get on the field, but what you do with your time and with your opportunities. That’s how I look at it.

JM: The proof is in the numbers. I know you met with every team in person at the Senior Bowl, but we’ve now reached the virtual part of the draft. You’ll be having the rest of your meetings through Zoom and telephone. How is that process going for you so far? Which teams have you met with?

MC: Things are going really well for me on that front so far. I met with every team at the Senior Bowl like you said. In terms of my Zoom meetings, I’ve been asked to keep those cards close to my chest. I’ve met with a lot of teams, but I can’t give out any details.

JM: That makes sense. The combine was canceled, but you’re still going to have a Pro Day to show off your athletic ability. What are you most looking forward to about that?

MC: I feel like I’m gonna do well in every drill. That’s the honest truth. I don’t think there are one or two drills that I can pick out. Obviously, I know people wanna see me run the 40. I’m really excited to run the 40 because I don’t think enough people give me credit for my speed. I’m trying to surprise some people there. 

I’m expecting something under 4.00 in my shuttle. I’m gonna run at least a 3.9-something there. I’m really excited to showcase my movements and run some routes. The individual drills will be fun. I’m gonna showcase what I’ve already put on film.

JM: I love that. This has been a terrific interview. I’ve really appreciated you for allowing us a peek into the mind of one of the most exciting and electrifying playmakers in this year’s NFL draft.

In closing, what kind of impact is Michael Carter going to make at the next level?

MC: Anything is possible. Whichever team I land on, I’m going to be a great teammate. I’m somebody that is gonna fit in immediately and gel with the team. I’m gonna evolve into a leader at the next level. I feel like God has his hands on me. Whatever is meant for me will be. My time will come when it comes. 

In terms of how I’m going to play, I can make an immediate impact. Whether that’s in another timeshare role, or as the bellcow, which I can be by the way. People don’t think I can be a bellcow, but I can absolutely be that. I have better numbers than a lot of the guys they think can be a bellcow. 

I’m just excited to go out there and prove myself and have fun.

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