2021 NFL draft prospects: North Carolina RB Michael Carter

Eric Edholm
·4-min read
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

North Carolina RB Michael Carter

5-foot-8, 202 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.79 — potential starter

TL;DR scouting report: Elusive, bursty back who adds value in the passing game and would be an ideal complementary back to pair with a bruiser

Games watched: Boston College (2020), Florida State (2020), Syracuse (2020), Virginia (2020)

The skinny: A 3-star Rivals recruit, Carter was the USA Today Offensive Player of the Year as a senior in high school. He wasted no time cracking the Tar Heel rotation as a true freshman, leading the team in rushing TDs (eight), running 97 times for 559 yards and catching 11 passes for 100 yards and one TD in 11 games (two starts). In 2018, Carter missed time with a broken wrist, rushing 84 times for 597 yards and two TDs and catching 25 passes for 135 yards and one more score.

As a junior in 2019, he reclaimed a starting role and earned third-team All-ACC, running 177 times for 1,003 yards and three touchdowns and catching 21 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games. Despite sharing the load with Javonte Williams in 2020, Carter was more effective last season, averaging an FBS-best 8 yards per carry (156 carries, 1,245 yards, nine TDs) and catching 25 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns. He attended the 2021 Senior Bowl.

Upside: Big-play back who led the country in runs of 15 yards or longer last season. Forces a ton of missed tackles and readily gains yards after first contact. Escape artist — gets out of jams with comical efficiency. Nasty jump cut, patience and vision — good for a “ohhhh!” run or two a game.

Strong vision, low center of gravity and slippery running style make him hard to bring down. Quick, light and active feet in space. Works laterally extremely well and has shown excellent one-cut ability on zone runs. Operated in a diverse offense that featured a steady diet of both zone and man runs.

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - NOVEMBER 14: Michael Carter #8 of the North Carolina Tar Heels runs against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during their game at Kenan Stadium on November 14, 2020 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The Tar Heels won 59-53. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
UNC's Michael Carter is a shifty, game-changing back. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Hides behind his offensive linemen and reads and uses his blocks well. Patience to let blocks develop before squirting out and turning on the jets. Looks like a great fit in a zone-heavy scheme with enough punch and toughness to hit the hole effectively inside the tackles. Will lower his shoulder and fight for yards in traffic. Tougher than he gets credit for.

Brings third-down value. Catches the ball cleanly and should be a reliable checkdown option in the passing game. Can separate from man coverage when asked. Competes in pass protection — willing to stick his nose in against bigger blitzers.

Improved ball security — only one fumble over final 28 college games (after four fumbles in first 15 college outings). Good hands in the receiving game — only two drops over the past two seasons on 54 targets, converting 46 of those passes into receptions. Solid kick-return ability, averaging 24.5 yards per return in 2019.

Downside: Size will always be a limiting factor. Carter put on some weight prior to Senior Bowl but is believed to have played closer to 190-195 pounds for most of his college career. Short wingspan (73 1/2 inches), arm length (29 1/8 inches) and hand size (9 inches). Stumpy frame that might not support a ton of added bulk.

Limited route running on tape — mostly asked to catch screens and flare passes, seldom asked to run anything downfield. Pass protection was inconsistent. Showed promise in this department in 2019 but wasn’t as effective last season or in one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl. Could require a learning curve with more demanding and sophisticated protection schemes in the NFL.

Long speed a question — might not be a burner at the position. Doesn’t always pull away from safeties and linebackers at the second and third levels. Will overuse the jump cut — gets too cute as a runner at times.

Can be seen going down with somewhat light contact. Likely won’t be used extensively as an inside runner in the NFL. Not built to be a volume runner — only three career games (out of 44) with 20-plus touches. Set back by injuries earlier in his college career and in high school.

Best-suited destination: Carter has the look of an ideal complementary back who should see a diet of 12-15 touches a game and be paired with a more physical runner to handle more of the dirty work.

Did you know: In his final college game, Carter ran for 308 yards — the fourth-most in an ACC game — and two touchdowns on 24 carries against Miami to help lead the Tar Heels to a 62-26 win and a spot in the Orange Bowl. Carter finished his UNC career with 3,404 rush yards (fourth-most in program history) and 28 total TDs (11th most).

Player comp: His peak might be Aaron Jones. Carter’s floor would be something on the Chase Edmonds-Darrell Henderson spectrum. More likely, he’ll end up somewhere in the middle.

Expected draft range: Rounds 3 or 4