Patriots rookie Sony Michel had a breakout rookie campaign, rushing for close to 1,000 yards and 6 touchdowns. He fared even better in the postseason, setting a record for NFL rookies by rushing for 6 touchdowns, including the game winner in Super Bowl 53.
After Roger Goodell announced the 31st pick in the NFL Draft, there was a bit of an outrage in Boston. The selection was Georgia running back Sony Michel, who had a history of injury and not the most impressive measurements. It was also a strange pick due to the lack of depth at other areas for New England, who could have used another speedy linebacker or defensive tackle.
As we all know however, the pick looks to be one of Belichick’s finest in years. Michel was the Patriots feature running back in 2018 and looked dominant at times. Coupled with an exceptional offensive line, New England’s run game was the most explosive its been since 2014. So, assuming Michel stays healthy and the offensive line stays intact, what does the future hold for No. 26?
There is a certain stigma that surrounds a first round running back. It seems as though they’re either a perennial Pro-Bowler or an all-time bust. The recent trend of first round backs has been favorable, with the likes of Ezekiel Elliot and Saquon Barkley dissipating the stigma little by little.
However, it terms of New England and high picked running backs, lets just say history is not on their side. And we’re not talking about third down backs like James White or Shane Vereen, who were great picks. This is about first and second down workhorses who can carry the ball 20 times per game. Stevan Ridley and Laurence Maroney are the two names that stick out, but especially Maroney.
Picked at 21st overall, the former Minnesota Gopher didn’t have a bad career with the Patriots per se, but injuries and a lack of production cut his time short in the NFL. There were a couple of seasons where he garnered over 700 yards, but it always seemed like he needed a Trent Brown sized hole to gain any yards.
The same can be said for Stevan Ridley, who apparently didn’t remember his time in New England too fondly. With one season above 1,000 yards, Ridley looked like he was set to be the next Patriots feature running back. However, like Maroney, Ridley failed to improve on his best season and declined slowly. A slew of injuries forced New England to cut him and stick with LeGarrette Blount for the rest of 2014.
So with this history of feature backs selected high in the draft, it was reasonable to question the 31st pick. Michel was never a full-fledged starter at Georgia, being behind Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb, and it was obvious that the Pats picked him to be just that. But after proving many people wrong, especially Tony Massarotti, Michel looks to be on the rise for the 2019 season.
Sure, Michel isn’t the fastest running back on the Patriots roster. He also benefits from having one of the NFL’s most dominant offensive lines in front of him, including James Develin. Even with these factors benefiting him tremendously though, the future looks bright for Michel.
It took a few games for the former Bulldog to find his footing, but once he did there was no looking back. He was accelerating through open holes, finding space in tight situations, and handled the ball extremely well. Pro Football Focus awarded him a 77.4 grade, and that was without incorporating receiving into his game.
Something he did very well at Georgia was catch the ball out of the backfield. While Nick Chubb and Todd Gurley were having a field day running the ball, Michel was juking defenders out of their shoes as the third down back. With James White already on the roster, there wasn’t a need for Michel to develop this part of his game during 2018. However, a big part of his future will be his ability to turn into a two-dimensional back.
When you look at the success of Gurley or Ezekiel Elliot, running the ball is a huge reason for it. What separates them however, is their prowess at catching the ball underneath and turning upfield for a huge gain. This is the part of Michel’s game that will turn him into a potential 2,000 all purpose yard running back.
If you watched the latter half of the 2018 season, then you saw the glimpses of greatness in Michel. The work ethic is there, along with the talent and ability. Being a rookie in New England can be a tough thing, especially on offense. Learning the playbook is no easy matter, which can attribute to the mistakes made in Michel’s first few games. However, he handled his rocky start with great aplomb, and should have an even better sophomore campaign.