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2021 NFL Draft Comps: North Carolina RB Michael Carter is the discount Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Oct 24, 2020; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels running back Michael Carter (8) with the ball in the first quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Comparing current NFL draft prospects to those of years past is standard procedure in draft evaluation, though most comparisons are built on the memory recall and subjective opinion of the particular evaluator.

This will be the first in a series of articles comparing the 2021 draft prospects to prior years and picking out the most similar comps with a clearly delineated and quantifiable method.

PFF data scientist Eric Eager has done tremendous work building college-to-pro projections, which are built off the robust college data we’ve collected since 2014 and have been applied to exercises like building an “Analytics” Mock. In this analysis, I will use some of our advanced stats for comparison but primarily rely on traditional stats to go back further to compare the 2021 prospects to draft classes going back to 2006.

Without the NFL Scouting Combine this season, the important measurables like weight and 40-yard dash will be reported through the various pro days that will be taking place over the next few weeks.

View PFF's 2021 NFL Draft position rankings:

QB | RB | WR | TE | T | iOL | DI | EDGE | LB | CB | S

METHODOLOGY

The comps below were derived from a two-step process. First, I converted all the most statistically relevant stats and measurables to percentiles based on the thousands of prospects who have entered the NFL since 2006 at each position. Then, I filtered the total universe of past prospects by those who had draft positions, weight and 40 times within a 10th percentile in either direction of North Carolina RB Michael Carter. For undrafted players, I assigned a numerical draft position of 300.

The rest of the matching features were transformed by principal component analysis (PCA). I found the closest statistically comparable players by the euclidean distance between the players' principle components, listed in the top 10 below.

The metrics for PCA are: rushing attempts per game, rushing yards per game, rushing touchdowns per game, receptions per game and market share of team receptions. All of these data points come from the prospect’s best collegiate season. I also matched the prospect’s market share of total team yards and touchdowns to past draft prospects.

For Carter's draft position, I’m using an estimate based on the mock data collected at GrindingTheMocks.com. For the weight and 40 time, I’m using the numbers from his pro day, with a 0.03-second penalty added to the 40 time to reflect the uncertainty of pro-day timed measurements.

Most comparable players

Carter has been upstaged by teammate Javonte Williams despite outproducing him in rushing yards over the last two seasons. The perception that Williams is potentially a three-down back and Carter more of a specialist was muddied a bit after the two weighed in at 212 and 201 pounds, respectively.

The rest of Carter’s measurables hit acceptable thresholds. He clocked in at 4.50 seconds on the 40-yard dash (62nd percentile), 6.81 seconds on the three-cone (90th) and put up jumps above the 40th percentile.

Even among highly efficient running backs like Carter, the NFL success hasn’t been substantial for his comps, who are generally smaller than workhorse backs. 

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