The New York Jets have a good problem on their hands as they must figure out how to divide opportunities between Breece Hall and Michael Carter
In 2021, the New York Jets did not run the ball that often, averaging the fewest rushing attempts per game across the entire NFL.
The main reason for that was the holes they dug themselves into early on in games. They gave up 98 total points in the first quarter while scoring only 59. The numbers got even worse in the second quarter, when they scored 84 points and allowed 170. A defense that allowed the most total points in the NFL last season was a big part of this.
This year, the Jets have doubled down on their commitment to running the football.
The Kyle Shanahan/Mike LaFleur wide-zone scheme is friendly to running backs, and the Jets have acquired a front five in which all players excel at zone blocking.
Running back Michael Carter, one of the Jets’ best value draft picks in recent memory, led the league as a rookie in forced missed tackles per touch and showed explosiveness out of the backfield.
Joe Douglas did not sit still, though. He traded up in the second round to pick another running back in Breece Hall, a move scorned by many analytics gurus. You don’t take running backs that high, they say. You can get better value later, they say.
As Joe Blewett of Jet X detailed in his film breakdown, Hall is poised to prove those naysayers wrong. Every rule has its exceptions, and the marriage of Hall and the Jets’ offensive scheme is a match made in heaven. Mike LaFleur knew that. Douglas knew that. Put the right player in the right scheme, match play-calling with his talent, and you have the recipe for many of the biggest stars in the NFL.
The Jets re-signed Tevin Coleman as veteran insurance, and they still have Ty Johnson on the roster. They also have La’Mical Perine and a long-shot to make the team in Zonovan Knight.
It’s clear, though, that the primary backfield responsibilities will be a two-man show. So how should the Jets split the carries between Carter and Hall?
Comparing Hall and Carter’s skillsets
Some are ready to anoint Hall the bell cow. After all, you don’t take a running back that high for him to be a backup. Still, Carter was so impressive last season that he cannot be discounted. The question is what balance will work for them given their skillsets and size.
Hall has the prototypical size of a three-down back in the NFL at nearly six feet and 220 pounds. Carter is a little smaller, at 5-foot-8 and 201 pounds. Hall has elite straight-line speed, as he ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash; Carter’s straight speed is more pedestrian, evidenced by a 4.55 time in the 40.
Carter is well-suited to the Jets’ outside-zone rush offense, which he succeeded in during his rookie year. He can also contribute as a receiver. Carter caught 36 passes for 325 yards and ranked ninth out of 50 backs (min. 100 rush attempts) with 1.48 yards per route run last season.
Most impressively, Carter led the NFL with 0.30 forced missed tackles per touch. His 99.4 elusiveness rating, a Pro Football Focus stat measuring the running back’s success independent of the offensive line, ranked third across backs with at least 100 rushes. He ranked fourth in the league with 22 rush points added, per Sports Info Solutions, meaning that he contributed over a point per game above average on the ground.
Hall, meanwhile, is just the sixth running back since 2003 to earn a Next Gen Stats draft score of 99. His Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 9.96 on a 0-10 scale is the fifth-highest by a running back since 2003.
Moreover, Hall is less drop-prone than Carter, who, despite his receiving prowess, dropped five balls last season. Hall projects as a better blocker than Carter, as well. His pressure rate allowed (5.7%) in 2021 was better than the FBS average for backs. On the other hand, Carter’s pressure rate in 2021 was 9.6%, above the NFL positional average of 8.8%.
How should the Jets divide the snaps between Hall and Carter?
Hall brings a lot of similar skills as Carter, but with more explosion and more of the little things. Since Hall is a better blocker and a more surehanded receiver, it makes sense to go with him in third-down passing situations.
Both backs are elusive and force missed tackles, making them both good options for first and second down. Carter may be better at grinding out consistent yardage, whereas Hall excels in breaking bigger plays and hitting home runs (six rushes of 70+ yards over the past three seasons).
It is important to note that in NFL analytics, an offensive play on first down is considered successful if it gains 40% of the yards-to-go for a first down. Compared to the baseline running statistic of yards per carry – which considers every yard equal – adding the context of when a player gains his yards is more critical to the success of an offense. Five yards on first-and-10 is excellent. Five yards on third-and-15 is not.
The Jets need their running backs to have a high success rate on first down to keep the offense moving. Consistently clearing that 40% mark on first down rushes will be key. Considering the ability of both Hall and Carter to elude tacklers and exceed their blocking, the Jets are in good shape on first down with either back.
Given Carter’s success in Year 1 and Hall’s sheer speed and athleticism, there are no wrong answers in this split. My guess is that Hall takes more of the third-down responsibilities, but the two backs cycle in and out on first and second down. One can be used to keep the other fresh. Carter is more than just a change-of-pace back, and a true platoon could very well be in play.
The New York Jets’ running game is poised to explode in 2022. If Hall and Carter can headline a top 10 unit, it will take pressure off Zach Wilson, setting him up for a jump in Year 2.
Mike LaFleur has many options at his disposal to deploy the next iteration of Jets’ Ground ‘N Pound.