Patriots Draft Running Back Sony Michel
With the 31st pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots selected running back from Georgia – Sony Michel.
Never in my wildest dreams did I envision Bill Belichick and the Patriots drafting a running back in the first round. After they took Laurence Maroney in the first round 12 years ago, I figured they would never go there again. Considering how devalued the position has become it was definitely surprising to see Michel get taken that early.
Obviously, they had a high grade on Michel and despite their holes on defense, the team felt Michel would add more value to their offense. More value than any defensive player left on the board. Adding a special running back of Michel’s caliber unlike any other running back in New England is sure to create an impact, but how about the fantasy implications?
Michel will be a fantasy asset in 2018 because he is the most talented running back on the Patriots. He has big-play ability, is great in pass protection and now plays in a top-tier offense. The Patriots are one of the seven teams in the past two years to produce a top 12 RB despite being a running back by committee. So what value Michel loses in volume as being part of the Patriots crowded backfield, he more than makes up that value by being a vital cog of the Patriots top offense.
The Crowded Backfield
As it stands right now, the former Georgia Bulldog is the most talented overall running back on the Patriots roster. The current other running backs on the team are as follows: Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, Jeremy Hill, and Brandon Bolden. Two castoffs from Cincinnati, another from Buffalo, a strict pass-catching back, and a special teamer. But as fantasy owners are all too familiar with, the Patriots try to utilize all their running backs. However in terms of overall fantasy production here is a look at the top running back in half-point per reception leagues over the past eleven years.
- Dion Lewis (Finished RB 14)
- LeGarrette Blount (Finished RB 8)
- LeGarrette Blount (Finished RB 36)
- Shane Vereen (Finished RB 22)
- Stevan Ridley (Finished RB 33)
- Stevan Ridley (Finished RB 11)
- BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Finished RB 26)
- BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Finished RB 15)
- Laurence Maroney (Finished RB 34)
- Kevin Faulk (Finished RB 25)
- Laurence Maroney (Finished RB 28)
Interestingly enough over the past two seasons, the Patriots have rostered two top 15 running backs despite having the dreaded running back by committee mantra. In standard leagues, Lewis/Blount both finished as top 12 running backs in 207 and 2016 respectively. Michel could be the next to break into the top 15 for the Patriots in 2018 despite crowded backfield. Keep in mind, he is no stranger to sharing time with other running backs.
Skillset – Explosiveness
Michel split time with fellow star running back Nick Chubb at Georgia and still put up great numbers. Michel had 156 rushing attempts for 1227 rushing yards for a 7.9 yards per carry. Compare that to Chubb who had 223 rushing attempts for 1345 rushing yards for a 6.3 yards per carry. Michel had nearly 70 less rushing attempts and finished with a very close yardage total to Chubb. Michel was an extremely efficient running back in college and showed big-play ability from almost everywhere on the field. Big plays from runs to the outside, from the inside, and as a receiver. Even took direct snaps as a wildcat quarterback. The biggest takeaway from his college tape is that he is explosive.
According to Pro Football Focus, Michel had 22 carries of 15 yards or more. Big plays alone accounted for 55% of his 2017 production. What’s even more impressive though is when you eliminate that production he still averaged 4.1 yards per carry on his remaining carries that were under 15 yards. With his big-play upside, it may not be crucial for Michel to receive a full workload to be a fantasy asset.
We saw it last year with how New Orleans utilized Alvin Kamara. Michel, who many have compared to Kamara could be used in a similar fashion. He won’t match Kamara’s efficiency from 2017, but Michel should be able to at least match or surpass Lewis’ production from a year ago if the Patriots fit him to that specific role.
The loss of Lewis could be the reason why the Patriots felt they needed to address the running back position with Michel in the first round. However, remember that the Patriots traded away wide receiver Brandin Cooks during the offseason, who helped the Patriots generate a ton of explosive plays. Michel is not only a replacement for Lewis at the running back position but a replacement for Cooks and his explosive plays.
If Michel does end up in that Lewis role expect him to be the main running back on first and second downs. In terms of the passing game especially on third down, the biggest threat to Michel’s receiving upside is Jame White. Losing third-down work to James White will likely happy. White in 2017 had 27 targets for 162 yards on 20 receptions on third-downs. Lewis on the other hand? One target and one reception on third-downs.
However, during the latter part of the 2017 season, the Patriots involved White less in the offense. Weeks 1-5, White had 35 targets and 30 receptions. Weeks 6-17, White had 37 targets and 26 receptions. White’s role diminished as Lewis’ grew in the second half of 2017. White’s role could again diminish especially with Michel being great in pass protection. That could keep Michel on the field for potentially three downs. That being said even with Rex Burkhead on the roster. Burkhead has the closest skill set to Michel but is not superior to Michel. He also missed six games last year due to injury and garnered the same amount of red zone touches as White last year. Burkhead will be the odd man out when it comes to red zone touches. However, fantasy owners should be optimistic about Michel’s usage in the red zone.
Red Zone Work
No team seems to find themselves more in the red zone than New England so that bodes well for Michel. The Patriots offense in 2017 led the league in red zone rushing attempts. With Lewis departing, he leaves with his 35 red-zone rushing attempts. With Michel potentially in that Lewis role, he should see red zone work. Traditionally, Belichick had used larger running backs like LeGarrette Blount and Mike Gillsilee in the red zone. However, in the second half of 2018, he made the switch to using Lewis more in the red zone.
The reason for this I believe was those bigger backs possessed no threat in the receiving game. This made it too obvious on what the Patriots offense was going to do. With Michel now, the Patriots have a bigger more aggressive back than they had Lewis, that can also be a threat in the passing game. Teams will have to respect both the run and the pass when Michel is on the field. However, like any backfield with multiple running backs, somebody, will steal a touchdown here or there. But based on Lewis leading the team in red zone rushing attempts a season ago and I would say, Michel, if slotted into that role, should be in good shape to see a bulk of red zone carries.
The mantra surrounding the New England Patriots always seems to be taking guys that underperformed in other places and putting them in places where they can succeed. Especially at the running back position, it seems to have just been about plugging in lesser guys to the correct roles. Michel on another hand was electric at the collegiate level and is not a lesser player that we have seen from other Patriots running backs. He has the talent to excel at the NFL level. When you combine the caliber of running back he is with the Patriots offense it is hard to not like the upside.
Just consider how the Patriots have made fantasy assets of far-less talented running backs then Michel. They turned those mediocre running backs into good running backs. Now they get a chance to turn a good running back into a great running back in Michel. If the Patriots could get Dion Lewis to an RB1 status in fantasy football leagues, just imagine what they can do with Michel; An upgraded bigger, and more athletic version of Lewis?
My prediction is that Michel will finish as a Top 15 running back in point per reception and half-point per reception leagues. Top 24 in standard leagues. And if you do not take my word for it, maybe you should see what former Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green had to say about Michel.
Do you agree or disagree with my take?
Check out where the rest of the Gridiron crew has Michel ranked – Dynasty Rookie Rankings
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