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Michael Carter’s Breakout Has Begun

  • The Draft Network
  • November 1, 2021
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There’s no question that the New York Jets’ win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday will be known—at least this week—as the Mike White game. But New York’s victory against the top-seeded team in the AFC had another hero: rookie running back Michael Carter.

I know fantasy points aren’t a perfect measure of player productivity, but if they were, Carter was the most productive player in pre-Sunday Night Football action. He was doing it all against the Bengals, rushing for a season-high 77 yards with a touchdown on 15 carries with an additional 95 yards on nine receptions. That’s 172 all-purpose yards from a guy who hadn’t cracked the 100-yard mark in a single game until last week. In the span of seven career games, Carter has gone from a third-string running back behind Tevin Coleman and Ty Johnson to a breakout dual-threat running back (a lá Christian McCaffrey or pre-2021 Alvin Kamara).

Carter’s production has truly exploded over the last few weeks. He’s scored a rushing touchdown in three of his last four games, with 17 catches for 162 receiving yards in the last two weeks. In contrast, Carter had just nine receptions with 64 yards receiving over the first five weeks of the season. What’s the deal with that?

The biggest factor is that the Jets have significantly shifted the role of their rookie back. Carter went from a run-first back who rarely ran passing routes over his first five career games to the main passing-down back in New York. Last week’s Jets matchup with the New England Patriots gave us our first glimpse at Gang Green utilizing Carter as a dual-threat option.

After five weeks of running routes on just 30% of passing plays, he ran routes on around 60% of pass plays in the first game after the bye. He accounted for nearly half of White’s completions in that game, and that trend only continued in Week 8. Carter was the Jets’ leader in receptions and receiving yards for a second straight week, with nearly a quarter of White’s 45 pass attempts targeting the rookie back.

Don’t expect Carter to revert back to any other role this season, even when Coleman returns. His involvement and production will only increase after his huge performance (and win) against Cincinnati on Sunday. The UNC product has taken over the Jets’ backfield in the two games since the bye. With head coach Robert Saleh confirming that Wilson will be out and White will start again in Week 9, Carter will continue to have a prominent role in the New York offense. His performances in Weeks 7 and 8, his increase in route involvement on passing plays, and the obvious chemistry that he and White have has ensured that for now. With Saleh saying White could be the Jets’ long-term answer at quarterback, even upon Wilson’s eventual return, we might be hearing Carter’s name a lot more this season.

The Jets take on the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday, a team that leads the NFL in rush DVOA on defense (-33.4%), and held Derrick Henry to 2.4 yards per carry on Sunday. They’re a lot more susceptible to the pass though, as they rank in the bottom third in the NFL in defensive pass DVOA (16.%). As a result, expect to see more receiving than rushing production from Carter out of the backfield on Thursday Night Football as his breakout as a dual-threat running back continues.

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