The summer is here, meaning we're getting closer to the start of fantasy football drafts. Success in those drafts will come from landing terrific bargains in the middle to late rounds while avoiding players who could see their numbers decline compared to 2020. However, that latter exercise isn't easy, especially in the case of players who are among the elite at their position or are coming off breakout seasons in the stat sheets.
Based on those parameters, I've already broken down the likes of Justin Herbert, Alvin Kamara, Derrick Henry, and Saquon Barkley in my "The Fantasy Case Against" series.
However, fantasy managers also need the 411 on rookies entering the league into prominent roles at the next level. I’ve already examined Zach Wilson and his potential value for fans in dynasty formats, so let’s look at his new teammate, Michael Carter. A fourth-round selection out of North Carolina, many fantasy analysts (including myself) absolutely love his landing spot in the Big Apple on a team that lacks a true No. 1 running back. But will he ultimately make good on that opportunity with Gang Green?
Carter's final collegiate season was a success, as he rushed for 1,245 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging eight yards a tote. He also caught 25 passes for 267 yards and scored another two touchdowns as a pass-catcher. What's more impressive is that he did it all while sharing the backfield work with Javonte Williams, selected by the Denver Broncos in the second round of the NFL draft. Carter is a dual-threat runner, and that's something that fantasy fans love with the popularity of PPR scoring formats.
Did You Know?
Carter's statistics at North Carolina were big, but he's not big in stature. The talented back measured in at just under 5-foot-8 and 201 pounds at North Carolina's Pro Day. Over the last 10 seasons, backs who were 5-foot-8 or less and 205 pounds or less have scored more than 200 fantasy points eight times. Darren Sproles and Danny Woodhead did it twice, while Justin Forsett, Tarik Cohen, Phillip Lindsay, and Dion Lewis did it once. Just one of those runners (Lindsay – 2018) did it during his rookie campaign.
Digging a little deeper, a total of four rookie runners who were 5-foot-8 or less and 205 pounds or less have scored more than 94.8 fantasy points in that time. That list includes Lindsay, Cohen, Devin Singletary (2019), and Ameer Abdullah (2015).
In this case, size does matter, my friends.
Carter was a fourth-round selection of the Jets in the 2021 NFL Draft. That has not been a good round for running backs regarding historical success in the stat sheets. Since 2001, the lone fourth-rounder to finish better than 24th in fantasy points as a rookie was Domanick Williams. He finished 14th at the position as a member of the Texans. In all, just seven of the 65 fourth-round backs ever accomplished a top-10 fantasy finish in a single season during their entire career. That’s just 11 percent of those running backs.
Over the last 10 seasons, the best fourth-round running back based on fantasy points is Roy Helu, who ranked as the RB24 in 2011. He scored 164.9 points, which would have been good for 26th a season ago. Sure, some of the players in this research aren’t what you would call household names, but guys like Nyheim Hines, Jamaal Williams, Marlon Mack, Mike Davis, Devonta Freeman, and Lamar Miller all failed as fourth-round rookies. Some did find success later, but we're only thinking about 2021.
The Jets overhauled their coaching staff in the offseason, hiring former Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to be their head coach. Saleh brought along Mike LaFleur, who has never been an NFL offensive coordinator but has worked with Kyle Shanahan since 2014. Since then, LaFleur has been an offensive assistant in Atlanta, plus a passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach in San Francisco. From 2018–2020, the Niners finished in the top 10 in scoring, total offense, and rushing offense.
Shanahan’s offenses have also been very running back-friendly, producing five top 10 fantasy finishes and five seasons with 1,000-plus yards on the ground. He’s also had seven seasons where a running back has had at least 39 catches out of the backfield. If there’s a cause for concern, it’s that a running back has had 200 or more touches under Shanahan just seven times. If Shanahan is the Jedi Master, will his apprentice, LaFleur, follow in his footsteps as it pertains to touches on a team lacking a true No. 1 runner?
Also, keep in mind that the player with the most touches in a season under Shanahan since 2017 is Tevin Coleman, who had 158 chances for the Niners in the 2019 season.
Coleman, ironically, happens to be on the Jets roster heading into this season.
There is little doubt (no pun intended) that Carter has the highest ceiling of the running backs on the Jets roster. The names Coleman, La'Mical Perine, and Ty Johnson don't exactly inspire a lot of excitement in the fantasy world, and Carter is the new "shiny toy" with a versatile skill set who has managers envisioning great things. Based on the track record of running backs of his size and the trend of fourth-round runners not putting up great numbers at the next level, I would temper expectations in 2021.
Based on the average draft position (ADP) information at the Fantasy Football World Championships, Carter is being selected 82nd overall as the RB32 on average. That is about as high as you should target him in your leagues, as a potential flex starter who might not even open the regular season atop the depth chart. Remember, Coleman has a strong knowledge of this offense and could easily open as the "lead" back.
Based on this research, I wouldn’t expect Carter to "break out" or make a rookie impact on the same level as Jonathan Taylor or James Robinson from a season ago. As a result, I wouldn't overdraft him when the reward is unlikely to be worth the price tag.
The Fantasy Case Against ...
- RUNNING BACKS
- WIDE RECEIVERS
- TIGHT ENDS
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for your late-breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!