Football is almost back, as the New England Patriots are just over a week away from kicking off training camp. On paper, the Patriots have one of the most loaded rosters in the league and should be one of the top contenders for yet another Super Bowl title. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any positional battles to watch for. Sony Michel had an impressive rookie year, but the former first-round pick missed minicamp with yet another knee injury. With Michel possibly sidelined, could third-round rookie Damien Harris carve out a large role in New England’s offense?
New England Patriots Training Camp Battles: Sony Michel vs Damien Harris
No matter who “wins” this battle, both players should see the field in 2019. The Patriots aren’t going to use Michel or Harris the way the Dallas Cowboys use Ezekiel Elliott, so both players will see their fair share of action. However, one player will see more action than the other, and only time will tell who wins the role. And since waiting is boring, let’s break down who has the best shot, starting with the incumbent.
Sony Michel had an impressive rookie season, all things considered. After missing essentially all of training camp with a knee injury, Michel made his NFL debut in Week Two against the Jacksonville Jaguars. After taking some time to find his footing, Michel ended the year with 931 carries and six touchdowns on 209 rushing attempts. He added another 336 yards and six touchdowns in the postseason while running behind New England’s second-ranked run-blocking offensive line. He’s already proven to be capable of handling a sizable workload and being an effective runner.
As previously mentioned, Michel missed the entirety of minicamp and OTA’s with another knee injury. This isn’t Michel’s first battle with the injury bug, as he has a storied history of knee injuries throughout his career. The good news is that Michel is already running full speed and hopes to be ready for the start of camp. As of this posting, it’s unknown whether or not he’ll reach that goal. However, even if he doesn’t, it shouldn’t be long before he sees the practice field.
Sony’s ultimate value will be determined by how much of an impact he makes in the passing game. Michel only caught seven passes as a rookie and never caught more than 26 during any one season at Georgia. Rushing production is highly dependent on the offensive line and play calling. Unless Michel can make a genuine impact as a pass-catcher, he’ll never provide anything more than replacement-level production. It’s worth noting that he does have the raw skills to be a pass-catcher, but he’s never consistently harnessed that ability.
Just about anyone could run behind New England’s offensive line, so Harris probably just needs the opportunity to win the job. Harris was a key piece of the Alabama machine during his collegiate tenure, recording 876 yards and nine touchdowns on 150 rushing attempts. As mentioned in our NFL Draft profile, Harris is great at hitting the right rushing lane and picking up every yard available.
Just like Michel, Damien Harris didn’t manage to make an impact in the passing game in college. The Alabama product recorded a career-high 22 receptions in 2018 and doesn’t appear to be the second coming of James White out of the backfield. While he picks up every yard available, he doesn’t have the top speed to churn out 50-yard plays as Michel can. In many ways, Harris is a souped-up version of BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Assuming Michel is fully healthy, this is his job to lose. While his work in the passing game leaves a lot to be desired, he’s a solid runner with the speed to break out into the open field. Bill Belichick likes having a two-down running back, and Michel fits the bill. As long as he’s back for the start of training camp, it’s hard to imagine Michel losing the job.
That said, Harris has what it takes to win the job should Michel miss more time with injury. The Alabama product is a great north-south runner who excels at short-yardage opportunities. He attacks his line and always falls forward when going down. He’s more than capable of getting the job done, even if he doesn’t do much in the passing game.
Assuming both guys stay healthy, look for Michel to take the main role while Harris comes in for short-yardage work. When complemented by do-everything guys like James White and Rex Burkhead, New England should have one of the best backfields throughout the NFL.