Sony Michel: The Player that has Fantasy Minds Divided

Matt Hicks, Staff Writer & Marc Szymanski, Contributor

Sony Michel is a dynamic and divisive player. He has fantasy minds debating his potential vs. his opportunity. In the most recent Mock Draft Series draft (Dynasty, PPR format) I took Michel at 3.10, although Marc Szymanski would take Michel on his roster, he thinks that’s much too high. Michel went as the 3rd rookie running back and 16th running back off the board. He was drafted before Jerrick McKinnon, Adam Thielen, Doug Baldwin, Josh Gordon, Mark Ingram (pre-suspension), LeSean McCoy, Fitz, and Gronk. Like most, we both agree that Michel is talented, but we disagree on whether he’s worth going in the third. Check out both our arguments and let us know, the comments or on Twitter, who you agree with.

The Argument Against Michel (Marc Szymanski)

Too Many Cooks in the Patriots Kitchen

We can start with the confusion that is the Patriots backfield. A person on the clock might look to 2017 and say, “Dion Lewis was the 13th RB, this is the right spot to draft Sony Michel.” I would remind that person on the clock that Rex Burkhead was a focal point of the Patriots offense and that Dion Lewis’ stats are inflated because Burkhead missed 6 games. We could go to 2016 when LaGarrette Blount was the 7th overall running back. I would remind you that he had 18 touchdowns that season. If you believe Sony Michel will score 18 touchdowns, I have some oceanfront property in Kansas that I’d like to sell you. Or we could go to 2015, when the highest Patriot running back was Blount at 30th overall.

While we’re talking about the Patriots backfield, it’s important to remember that it is quite crowded. Sure, Dion Lewis has found a new home sharing the backfield with Derrick Henry on the Tennessee Titans. Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, Jeremy Hill, and two others (Webb and Bolden) are still on the roster. I’ll accept that Jeremy Hill is in a “prove-it” contract and can be cut with very little cost. You could argue the same for Mike Gillislee, but he is guaranteed 10 times what Jeremy Hill is guaranteed. Bolden’s contract expires after this season, Webb’s has very little in guarantees. This still leaves the two established members of the Patriots backfield: Burkhead and White. Both have established roles and a positive history with the team. Remember the those words (“positive history”) because they will come back into play in just a few moments.

Michel Will Drop the Ball

Sony Michel fumbled the ball on an average of 1 time for every 54.6 touches. To put that number in perspective:

Ronald Jones – 1 per 208, Saquon Barkley – 1 per 193, Kerryon Johnson – 1 per 191

This is a serious blemish for any running back prospect. If anybody believes Belichick will patiently put Sony Michel back in the huddle while he fumbles the ball away every other game, then that oceanfront property in Kansas is still available! While Sony Michel has ball handling difficulties, those established members of the team with a “positive history” (told you!) will continue to be the solid and consistent members of the team that Belichick has come to trust carrying the ball.

One other quick point, Sony Michel was not a pass catching back in college. Apart from Blount’s 18 TD year, the value of the Patriots running backs is much higher in PPR leagues. If Sony Michel isn’t a part of the passing game, then his PPR value decreases.

Patriots Are Close To a Rebuild

Brady is old, Gronk is about to retire, the Patriots have no cap space, and the team is filled with older players with expensive years left on their contracts. This team is about to get really young and very inexperienced during the peak years of Sony Michel’s professional career. In other words, it would have been the right time to draft a Sony Michel this early in a startup dynasty league about 3 years ago.

The Argument For Michel (Matt Hicks)

Michel Deserves to be Rookie Running Back 3

Sony Michel was a top 25 high school recruit, and helped Georgia rise from a second thought in the SEC East to three points shy of a national championship. Michel rushed for 3,613 yards and 33 touchdowns in his four seasons in Athens; playing in a total of 47 games. In those 47 games he rushed the ball 590 times to average 6.1 yards/carry; never averaging less than 5.2 yards/carry and topping out at 7.9 yards/carry in 2017. He proved to be a legitimate dual threat; catching 64 passes for 621 yards and 6 touchdowns against staunch SEC defenses. Michel is coming off a 1,227 yard and 16 touchdown season; in an offense where he split volume evenly with Nick Chubb. Michel proved to be a dynamic back that consistently produced in an offense where he split time with another elite running back.

Michel solidified his place at the top of this running back with his combine performance. The 5’11” 214 lbs ran a 4.54 40-yard dash; 9th amongst all running backs and finished 5th amongst all backs with 22 reps on the bench press. Michel shows up very well on tape; he reads defenses well and has dynamic athletic ability to beat defenders and accelerate down the field. Michel is a two year captain and I value that trait in players; and I’m sure it helped him land in Bill Bellicheck’s offense.

Michel is particularly valuable in dynasty formats. I took him at pick 3.10 in the most recent Mock Draft Series draft. There, I took him as the third rookie running back off the board (Guice went 2.06 and Barkley went 1.07), which is where he deserves to be. Michel will have much more opportunity in his first season than Chubb (4.06) and is a much more dynamic athlete than Ronald Jones (4.12) and Royce Freeman (5.02). I’m also taking a young, explosive rookie over older veterans like McCoy, or unproven journeymen like McKinnon. In dynasty, it’s about getting the guys you’re comfortable with on your roster for at least 3 years; and Michel is one of the few backs in the backend of the 3rd that fits that need. Given the lack of depth at the position, I’m eyeing running backs almost exclusively this early.

New England is the Perfect Landing Spot

Here’s the real key to Michel’s value: he’s a New England Patriot. With Dion Lewis vacates 180 carries; and no running back stands in Michel’s way to take them. To put this into perspective, if Michel gets even 157 of those carries Lewis left behind; he would have more carries than he had in 3 of his seasons at Georgia. In those seasons he rushed for 2,477 yards. New England has finished in the top 10 in rushing yards per team each of the last 3 seasons; so Belichick is committed to the run game. The Patriots recent approach of running back by committee doesn’t scare me. Dion Lewis proved in 2017 that players can flourish in that committee style, and Michel excelled in a committee system at Georgia. I don’t believe, however, that Michel will be a committee back; Belichick hasn’t ever invested so much into a running back. The closest he’s come, in terms of draft capital was Shane Vereen with the 33rd pick in the 2011 draft.

About Matt Hicks

Matt’s writing at Top2 is focused on dynasty fantasy football. He loves blending his experience writing research in the field of education with fantasy football stats. Matt currently lives in Baltimore, MD and graduated from Eastern Connecticut State University and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. You can follow Matt on Twitter: @Top2Matt

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