Under head coach Tim Gase, the Jets could not have been worse when they tried to run. The backfield combined for the No. 32 (2019) and No. 31 (2020) fantasy points. Last year, despite running the ball 356 times (No. 14), they only gained 1,383 yards (No. 27). That was using six different running backs, with octogenarian Frank Gore as the lead back with 187 carries for 653 yards (3.5 yards per carry) and a team-high two rushing touchdowns. And that was twice as good as any of the other five.
Enter the new coaching regime of head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. Saleh was the defensive coordinator for the 49ers, and will rely on LaFleur who worked on the 49ers’ offense for the last four years. That suggests that the committee approach to the backfield is a given. After all, that approach produced the No, 4 (2019), and No. 3 (2020) total of running back fantasy points the last two years. And that’s a level of success that the Jets may not even be able to comprehend.
The 49ers involved seven running backs last year, and five in 2019. The difference was that their committee approach worked with anyone they plugged in, while the Jets found no success regardless of who ran the ball.
The old backfield is gone – Frank Gore, Kalen Ballage, and Le’Veon Bell moved on. The only holdovers are Ty Johnson (54 rushes for 254 yards), La’Mical Perine (64 rushes for 232 yards), and Josh Adams (29 carries for 157 yards) remained. They already had the jerseys, and the Jets needed depth.
To help install the new offense, the Jets added Tevin Coleman and drafted Michael Carter with their 4.02 draft pick. He became the fifth back selected in April and was a tandem at North Carolina with Javonte Williams.
Coleman spent the last two seasons in San Francisco, so the 28-year-old offers a veteran presence in the locker room and already knows the offensive scheme. What he doesn’t bring is much success within that offense. He only ran for 544 yards on 137 carries with six scores and catching 21 passes for 180 yards in 2019, and then sputtered through 2020 while missing eight games because of a knee injury and only recording 29 rushes.
Coleman signed a one-year deal worth up to $2 million, so the commitment and outlook for Coleman at the Jets is hardly strong. He does bring knowledge and presence to the backfield. But not likely notable production.
Enter Michael Carter.
This is a committee backfield, and the Jets have s smattering of moderately talented backs which all combined doesn’t look that much different than the one that ranked No. 31 and No. 32 over the last two seasons. Improved blocking, pass offense, field position, coaching and so on, will certainly make a positive difference.
But if any running back emerges from the group to offer a skillset and ability that can be a true advantage – it will be Carter. All the others have tried in the past. That’s not to say the offense must have a difference-maker – it hasn’t for the last couple of years.
Michael Carter, North Carolina Stats (2017-2020)
Despite sharing with Javonte Williams at North Carolina, Carter was very productive. A mature, four-year player at a school that loves to run the ball, Carter gained 1,245 yards and nine scores on 156 carries (8.0 yards per carry), plus added 25 receptions for 267 yards and two more scores in the 11 games played last year.
His drawback is that he is only 5-8, 200 pounds but runs a 4.5 40-time. That’s smaller for the NFL than it plays out in college. That’s roughly the same size as Devin Singletary or Nyheim Hines.
What Carter brings to the table is that he’s a versatile rusher, receiver and blocker. He provided the lightning to Javonte Williams thunder in college. He’s a been a dangerous runner that can get lost in traffic by the defenders, and he’s tough to cover by any linebacker. He’s no “run it outside” kind of back. He can pick up the tougher inside yards when needed.
He ends up with a much worse offensive line in New York than he enjoyed in college. But the strength of schedule for rushing is about average this year for the Jets. More than anything, he lands in the middle of marginal talent on a rebuilding team. He has a direct path to become the primary back, if only by the end of the season.
There are many changes going on with the Jets that all have to come together but the optimism is high that HC Saleh is on the right track and has improved pieces to fit together and create something far better than what HC Gase left behind. One of those can be – and should be – Michael Carter.