Sony Michel: New England Patriots X-Factors

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ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 26: A video board displays an image of Sony Michel of Georgia after he was picked #31 overall by the New England Patriots during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium on April 26, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

With the 31st overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots scooped up Sony Michel, a running back from Georgia. The pick wasn’t what most expected, but since then it seems Michel has become an early favorite. After all, he was the third running back taken in the draft, behind Saquon Barkley (New York Giants) and Rashaad Penny (Seattle Seahawks). While he remains (tentatively) unsigned, Michel is hard at work preparing for his inevitable spot on the running back depth chart. Where he’ll land and what he’ll contribute remains to be seen, but his skill set and history certainly make him an X-Factor for the upcoming season.

New England Patriots X-Factor: Sony Michel

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Bulldog Excellence

Simply put, Michel was a beast for Georgia. During his college career, he ran for just over 3,600 yards and cashed in 33 touchdowns. As a receiver, he reeled in 621 yards and an additional six touchdowns.

With partner running back Nick Chubb, who was drafted four rounds later by the Cleveland Browns, Georgia tore Auburn apart in the SEC Championship Game and dropped a stunning double overtime loss on Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl. The team managed to reach the National Championship game, only to lose to Alabama in overtime, a game that saw Michel take 14 carries for 98 yards.

Michel and Chubb were such a dynamic duo that their combined 8,259 rushing yards broke the previous FBS record of 8,192 (held by Eric Dickerson and Craig James). Had this year’s draft not been top-loaded with quarterbacks, it stands to reason that the Michel could have very well been picked up by another team before New England hit the clock.

Fighting for a Spot

This year’s Patriots depth chart is crowded, even with the loss of star back Dion Lewis. Michel joins Rex Burkhead, James White, Jeremy Hill, Mike Gillislee, Brandon Bolden, and undrafted free agent Ralph Webb.

Burkhead and White are tried and true veterans of the game and, given Burkhead’s recent contract extension, it’s safe to say those spots are filled. Michel’s college performance should mean his spot on the final roster is also safe, but it’s important to keep in mind that college skills don’t always translate to professional football. Perhaps more importantly, the Patriots playbook is notoriously difficult to learn.

Right now, Michel’s toughest competition is Hill and Gillislee. Bolden is a hardcore special teamer, and Webb, barring a preseason or training camp miracle, is essentially a non-factor. Gillislee was supposed to be a replacement for LeGarrette Blount, but that proved to be a pipe dream. As a result, it would appear that Michel’s main competition (if there is, in fact, any competition at all) would be Hill, a free agent addition from Cincinnati.

Because Bill Belichick enjoys utilizing a running back rotation, it’s likely that Burkhead and Michel will be the main, early-down backs. White will continue to be used as the elusive pass-catching back. The harder role to fill, and one that Michel probably won’t fill, is the goal-line back.

X-Factors

Make no mistake, just because he’s (still) unsigned doesn’t mean anyone should worry about Michel’s contributions to the team. If he’s able to play as well in the NFL as he did in college, Michel could likely be a solid replacement, if not upgrade, from Lewis.

Michel has shown an excellent ability to break through lines to eat up yardage, averaging nearly 31 yards per big run. On top of that, the man has a natural talent for protecting the ball. Michel is gearing up to be a nightmare for defenses thanks to a seemingly non-existent fear of physical contact through the line. However, that bravery may worry fans a bit considering New England’s history with running back injuries. If he can stay smart, committed and healthy, the odds of Michel becoming the next great Patriot are high. Last Word On Pro Football’s own Patrick Johnson envisions 700 rushing yards and at least 10 touchdowns for the rookie back during the upcoming season.

Last Word on Sony Michel

Many fans initially questioned the pick, but Michel has quickly grown to be this year’s favorite rookie, or at least tied for that honor with Isaiah Wynn, the team’s first pick in the draft (23rd overall). Cycling Michel through the downs with Burkhead and White will keep Michel involved in the run game while learning from seasoned pros. He won’t be the immediate starter or featured back yet, but he will grow into that role in the coming years.

There’s a reason Michel was the third running back taken in the draft. He may not be an immediate replacement for the loss of Lewis, but his combined strength, speed, and natural ability set him ahead of most of the team’s other running backs and make Michel a definitive X-Factor on this year’s offense.

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