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NFL Draft

Javonte Williams, Michael Carter Propelled Each Other To NFL

  • The Draft Network
  • March 29, 2021
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Javonte Williams and Michael Carter weren’t competing against each other Monday during UNC’s Pro Day, they were competing with each other. It’s a small but important distinction for the two running backs weeks away from the 2021 NFL Draft.

They shared the load, running a two-back system at North Carolina after Williams emerged as a starter his sophomore season (in 2019). They played off each other’s strengths and learned from each other’s game; the two are poised to be RB3 and RB4 off the draft board with Williams having the potential to be RB1 or RB2. Williams and Carter certainly use one another as motivation, and either one’s success became a contagion. Williams, a powerful but fast runner, and Carter, who couples his elusiveness with great field vision and patience, helped transform UNC’s offense together. They weren’t just great backs, they were effective pass-catchers who helped spread out the Tar Heels’ offensive attack.

When Williams broke off for a long run, Carter would want to do the same on his ensuing carry. Both of their skill sets will translate well to the NFL; they have the ability to do it all at their varying sizes. What will be most beneficial at the next level is coming from a run-by-committee system. As the pass-happy NFL continues to devalue the running back position, it’s rare you see one rusher carry the entire load. Williams’ and Carter’s ability to work in tandem sets them up for another two- or three-back system; it also kept them incredibly fresh.

“I feel like a lot of players get overworked and have their best football while they’re in college; but with the two-back system and my sophomore year having three backs, I feel like it kept me fresh,” Williams said.

They didn’t have to force a connection, it came naturally in large part due to the system UNC was already running but also to the credit of both personalities. Carter was part of a running tandem before Williams felt comfortable enough with his pass protection to move into a starting role. The two each rushed for more than 1,100 yards last season; Carter topped his career-best from 2019, when he barely eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark, with 1,245 rushing yards and 1,512 yards from scrimmage.

“Me and ‘Vonte didn’t force what we had. It was organic,” Carter said late last week ahead of UNC’s Pro Day. “We’re both every-down backs that can do it on our own, but the NFL is kind of going to a system where whatever system you’re in, you gotta make the plays and that’s something we both learned being at North Carolina. Our whole careers we’ve had to split carries, both of us, so it’s less important about how long you’re on the field and more important to know that you have to make quality plays on the field to stay out there.”

Both players bring their own unique traits to the NFL. Williams is big, fast, and strong. His ability to run with low pads gives defenders less to hold on to and at nearly 5-foot-10 and 212 pounds, there’s a lot to hold on to. He can bounce off players and as head coach Mack Brown described Friday, “that big back in the fourth quarter is a lot better than any back is in the first quarter because they just keep pounding and pounding and pounding.” 

Carter doesn’t boast the same size, and that’s affected his projected success in the NFL; but at 5-foot-7 and 201 pounds, Carter plays bigger than he is. Both can pass protect and have great ball security. Where Carter differs is his ability to be patient, to make the cut.

“He can jump sideways on a cut and then be full speed coming out of his break and that’s very, very difficult to do,” Brown said. “Michael was one of the best leaders on the team. When we had our social justice issues in the summer, I went to Michael first and he and I talked about some hard things. And he helped all of us through this, and he helped our team; he picked people up. He’s happy every day.”

Williams and Carter have an infectious energy about them. Carter proclaims himself as always being in a good mood. Williams is confident but not cocky; he’ll effortlessly say he’s the best back in the 2021 class and just as quickly praise Carter for his success over four seasons at UNC. The two propelled each other’s careers forward: Williams had to become more elusive or the big-bodied back wouldn’t be able to play behind a once-full running back room. Carter was able to use his size to his advantage and his versatility along with his vision not only allows him to see a lane but attack it. In the end, they were happy to be back on the same field, showing out with each other. 

“It means a lot, because a lot of times at these Pro Days, especially at the running back position, you’re doing these Pro Days by yourself so just being able to do the position drills and go through the experience—I talk to ‘Vonte probably every day,” Carter said. “We just talk. Being able to go through the process of getting drafted and going to the next level means a lot.”

The tandem was arguably the most dynamic backfield in the nation this past season and still, their best football is ahead of them.

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