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Michael Carter, RB, North Carolina – NFL Draft Player Profile

The “lightning” in UNC’s thunder-and-lightning combo, how does North Carolina running back Michael Carter project to the 2021 NFL Draft?

Michael Carter, RB, North Carolina - NFL Draft Player Profile
CHAPEL HILL, NC - OCTOBER 10: Michael Carter #8 of North Carolina scores a touchdown on a 16-yard run during a game between Virginia Tech and North Carolina at Kenan Memorial Stadium on October 10, 2020 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

A ferocious two-headed rushing tandem emerged in Chapel Hill this season. North Carolina running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter tore apart the ACC on the ground, and now both are lauded as legitimate NFL Draft prospects. Williams gets most of the highlights with his explosive, bruising style. Yet, Carter also has translatable next-level traits, and he can be a dynamic weapon in the right offense.

Michael Carter 2021 NFL Draft Profile

Height: 5-foot-8

Weight: 199 pounds

Position: Running Back

School: North Carolina

Current Year: Senior

Despite his size, production has never been a problem for Michael Carter. Even in high school, he was a tremendously productive running back with a penchant for making plays. In his senior year at Navarre High School in Florida, Carter rushed for 2,536 yards and 45 touchdowns, and he also logged experience as an impactful return specialist.

With his dynamic ability, Carter attracted a considerable amount of interest from college football programs. He was rated as a four-star prospect and had offers from prestigious Power Five schools like Florida, Tennessee, and West Virginia. He ended up signing with the North Carolina Tar Heels, eager to join a talented stable of backs out of the gate.

Michael Carter’s career as a North Carolina running back

Carter’s talent provided value to the Tar Heels right away. As a true freshman, he earned substantial playing time, despite sharing snaps with future NFL backs T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood. The North Carolina running back led the team with eight touchdowns on the ground and accumulated 559 yards on 97 carries.

Logan and Hood left after the 2017 season, leaving Carter as the premier weapon in the Tar Heels’ backfield. However, he didn’t see much of a statistical uptick in 2018. That year, North Carolina had another arrival at running back in Javonte Williams. While Williams was only a rotational player at the time, he sapped some opportunities from Carter, and the two hadn’t found a balance yet. But it wouldn’t be long before they found their stride.

Helping to develop one of college football’s most explosive tandems

In 2019, Carter broke the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career, amassing 1,003 yards and three touchdowns on 177 carries while also picking up two receiving touchdowns. By now, his dynamic ability was starting to become more apparent. Williams gradually improved as a complement to Carter’s quickness, and in 2020, the two emerged as a nearly unstoppable duo.

The 2020 regular season saw Carter and Williams combine for 2,385 yards and 28 touchdowns on 313 attempts. Additionally, the two split 50 receptions out of the backfield for 572 total yards and five total touchdowns. It was your classic thunder-and-lightning with some exciting twists, and the tandem’s electricity reached peak intensity in a 62-26 win against Miami.

In what was a humiliating affair for the Hurricanes, Carter and Williams broke the NCAA record for total rushing yards between two running backs in a game. Williams logged 236 yards and three scores on 23 attempts, while Carter broke the 300-yard mark, amassing 308 yards and two scores on 24 totes. After the game, Carter announced his decision to opt out of North Carolina’s impending bowl. At that time, he officially declared for the 2021 NFL Draft.

Analyzing Michael Carter’s 2021 NFL Draft profile

How do I explain Michael Carter’s running style? It’s almost like he floats. Carter’s style is one of constant movement and energy. He’s super smooth with how he connects different movements, allowing him to stack jump cuts and direction changes with relative ease. He’s an extremely agile, elusive runner, and that’s at the forefront on his tape.

On top of his impressive agility, Carter also has solid explosiveness upfield. His explosiveness profile is actually fairly similar to that of Javonte Williams. Carter isn’t much faster — he likely runs a high 4.4 to low 4.5 — but he still gears up quickly once he has a window, and he can also accelerate when turning runs outside. His burst allows him to get into space, where he can then use his agility to make single defenders miss.

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One of the best things about Carter’s game, even beyond his jittery running style, is his natural receiving ability. Williams may have produced more than Carter as a receiver, but Carter shows some serious flashes of instinct as a receiver. He’s able to take catches out of the backfield as well as run routes in the short range. In several instances, Carter used his lateral quickness to create separation at his route stems. Not all running backs have that understanding or that ability, and it adds to Carter’s versatility.

Potential weaknesses in Michael Carter’s game

Carter is much slighter than Williams, standing at 5-foot-8, 199 pounds. Thus, he’s naturally not going to have as much contact balance to work with. There are occasional instances where Carter withstands contact, and he certainly has an element of slipperiness to his game when encountering contact.

Yet, with his size, he’s never going to be consistent against direct contact. There were times in college where Carter got contacted behind the line of scrimmage and couldn’t escape. There’s only so much he can do to correct that.

Additionally, while Carter shows impressive flashes with vision, he can be more consistent there as well. There are times where Carter diagnoses fluctuating lanes well and adjusts his cuts correspondingly. But there are also times where he can play without control and miss lanes at the line, hindering his ability to find space. It’s common to ask for more consistency from young players in these areas, and given Carter’s bright flashes in this area, it’s not a huge concern.

It’s also worth noting that Carter isn’t a great pass blocker. That’s not a big red flag, either. Teams should have him running routes on passing downs to utilize him correctly. Nevertheless, his inconsistency and lower upside as a blocker do detract a bit from his versatility.

Michael Carter’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft

The North Carolina running back duo has a lot of fans, and there’s good reason for that. Both backs are dynamic talents who should have futures at the NFL level. In my opinion, Javonte Williams is the more complete back, and he’ll be rated slightly higher on my board. But as a spark plug and a receiving weapon on Day 2 or early Day 3, Carter has a ton of appeal. Especially in the modern NFL, that’s a role that isn’t taken lightly.

As it stands, there are plenty of NFL teams who can use more receiving ability in the backfield. The Buccaneers, Chiefs, Giants, Patriots, and Jaguars stand out as solid fits. But in truth, teams are always in the market for backs who can impact the passing game, and Carter matches that description.

I don’t know if I see Carter ever becoming a premier running back. It partially depends on where he goes. He’d have to add a little weight, but it’s not out of the question that he becomes a primary weapon out of the backfield with his versatility. At the very least, he can provide a change of pace out of the backfield and carve out a career as a solid contributor for years on end.

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