2021 NFL Draft Profiles: Does UNC's Michael Carter Fit the Jaguars' Need at RB?

One of the best third-down backs in this year's class is UNC's Michael Carter, who is a stellar non-top 50 option for the Jaguars to add as running back depth.
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The 2021 NFL Draft season is upon us and the first wave of free agency is now over. Now, scouts, coaches, and general managers will hit the road as all eyes will turn to the draft.

Among the 32 teams building their rosters to compete for the next Lombardi Trophy is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who hold 10 picks in this season’s draft -- including the No. 1 overall pick. The Jaguars are entering a new era under Head Coach Urban Meyer, and the 2021 draft will serve as a catalyst to the Jaguars’ rebuild moving into the future.

As we march closer and closer to April’s draft, we will look at individual draft prospects and how they would potentially fit with the Jaguars. Instead of looking at any negatives, we are going to look at what the players do well and if they could match what the Jaguars need at the specific role or position.

In this edition, we review North Carolina running back Michael Carter, one of the top third-down running backs in the 2021 draft class. Does he fit the Jaguars' offensive plans moving forward in the event they target him as a draft pick?

Overview

A three-star recruit out of high school, Carter broke Florida high school football records and eventually committed to UNC over schools such as Florida, Tennessee, Louisville, and more. Carter immediately stepped into a playmaking role with UNC as well, playing in 11 games and starting two as a true freshman in 2017.

After rushing for 559 yards (5.8 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns as a freshman, Carter saw a decrease in carries but an uptick in receptions as a sophomore, amassing 732 touches on 109 touches. His offensive touchdown total went down from 9 to three, however. 

As a junior, Carter had a breakout year and rushed 177 times for 1,003 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and three touchdowns, while also catching 21 passes for 154 yards (7.3 yards per catch) and two touchdowns. As a result, he earned Third Team All-ACC honors. 

Carter's production exploded after an 11-game senior season, with the Third-Team All-American and First-Team All-ACC running back leading UNC in rushing with 1,245 yards (9.0 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns, along with 25 catches for 267 yards (10.7 yards per catch) and two scores. 

What Michael Carter Does Well

It is easy to see which parts of Michael Carter's skill set will translate to Sundays. He plays with an electric quickness that is evident in everything he does: how he runs, how he catches, and even how he processes plays in the backfield. For any offense that already has an element of power and size but needs an injection of juice and energy, Carter seems like a logical addition thanks to what he brings to the table.

Carter's size (5-foot-7, 201 pounds) will likely ding him on a number of boards, but he does a great job of not letting it hinder him in either the run or passing game. He is best at running off tackle and on zone-based runs thanks to his blend of quick feet and vision. The most encouraging sign about Carter's future as a rusher is how he processes plays from the backfield -- plays would routinely break down in front of him before he got the ball, but 

He won't get a lot of yards up the middle, but he can take advantage of slivers in the defense and utilize his quickness to pick up chunk yards, weaving in and out of traffic with ease. He runs patiently but not to the point where he isn't decisive on zone runs as well. He does a great job of sticking his foot in the ground and exploding once he finds a lane as well -- his value as a zone runner is obvious. 

His feel for space is very clear, with there being several moments in 2020 where he was able to use the entire field and set up blockers from multiple angles. Watch his screen touchdown reception against Syracuse to get an understanding of how he takes advantage of blocks in open space. He doesn't have great long speed, but his start-stop ability and feel for how to make defenders miss is top-notch.

Carter's biggest value in the NFL will likely come as a passing-down back. He is the epitome of a receiver at the running back position due to his traits and role/production at UNC. He caught 82 passes for 656 yards (8.0 yards per catch and six touchdowns) but the last two years saw him catch 45 of those passes for 421 yards (9.35 yards per catch) and four scores. Add in his excellent route package out of the backfield (few college running backs run crisper angle routes), his feel for zone coverages, terrific hands, and his ability to transition from receiver to ball-carrier and force missed tackles and he brings a ton of value as a pass-catcher.

How Michael Carter Would Fit With the Jaguars

Any team looking for a bell-cow back they can give the ball to up the gut 15-20 times a game probably shouldn't be placing a big emphasis on targeting Carter. Luckily for the Jaguars, they already have that kind of running back on their roster in James Robinson. What they need is someone who can compliment Robinson -- and it is easy to see Carter would do just that.

In fact, Carter's fit with the Jaguars is even easier to imagine because we saw him in a similar role in 2020 with Javonte Williams at UNC. Carter was the lighting on UNC's offense, their pass-catcher and quick and shifty back who took advantage of space. Meanwhile, Williams was the offense's hammer. 

This is the same way Carter would be used in Jacksonville. His role really shouldn't impact Robinson's snaps too much in the event the Jaguars draft him, at least on first and second down. Carter would likely become the third-down back due to his value on passing downs. 

If the Jaguars want a running back whose skill set meshes perfectly with Robinson's but don't want to spend a top-50 pick, Carter makes a lot of sense. He brings the right skill set, experience, and production in the passing game. Plus, his value is better than that of drafting Travis Etienne, even if Etienne is a better overall prospect.

Verdict

If Travis Etienne is the best fit for the Jaguars at running back in this draft class, then Michael Carter isn't far behind him. His strengths and weaknesses perfectly compliment Robinson's own skills, while his place on the offense wouldn't eliminate Robinson's own effectiveness. 

Carter's size and lack of top-end speed make it a bit unjustifiable to select him in the top-50, but he makes a ton of sense in this draft's second tier of running backs. He would be a logical option at No. 65 overall and could reasonably outplay that draft slot with some ease.

For all of our 2021 NFL Draft profiles, click below.