Running back Sony Michel was taken with the 31st pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He was a late bloomer at Georgia having an incredible post-season run with the Bulldogs. In total, in 2017 he rushed for 1,227 yards and 16 touchdowns filling in for Nick Chubb. The Patriots saw enough of him to select him in the first round. Despite the general rule of Bill Belichick to not draft the position in the first round by any means.
Michel had an incredible rookie campaign, especially turning up in the post-season. Michel carried the ball 71 times for 336 yards and six touchdowns, including the only touchdown of Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams. Which led the Patriots to their sixth Super Bowl championship.
Michel broke all kinds of rookie post-season records in 2018, but it seems as though he may just be a flash in the pan. Even if he replicated his production the following year, the Pats still selected Damien Harris in the third round in 2019. Come 2020, Harris had stolen his job. Then in the 2021 Draft, they select Rhamondre Stevenson out of Oklahoma, who fans hope become the new LeGarrette Blount. With James White‘s impact as a third-down back, Michel sits comfortably behind many on this loaded depth chart. Even UDFA J.J. Taylor looks to give the former first-round pick a battle in camp. So where does Sony Michel stand on this depth chart as camp opens up in just a few short weeks?
His status as a first-round pick means nothing
With other teams, Michel may have been given the benefit of the doubt. Being a first-round pick comes with high expectations, as well as high investment. Unlike most organizations, the Patriots have never clung to players. If there’s an improvement to be made, they won’t give a player chance after chance. They prefer to make the change immediately and get the win any way possible. That’s why Harris was thrown in the spotlight and Michel never saw it again. Harris had become the better running back and took the starting role. Michel was nothing more than an afterthought with Rex Burkhead cutting into his carries until injuries hit.
It’s clear that Belichick doesn’t give a damn whether or not Michel was an early investment. He’s not afraid to cut ties with mistakes and get immediate upgrades if the opportunity presents itself. Hell, we saw in this off-season with the Pats going out and signing the two best tight ends on the market in Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. Despite just drafting Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene fairly early in the 2020 NFL Draft. Sony Michel earns his spot on this roster, it’s not just handed to him because he was a first-round selection. Especially so far looking like the wrong first-round selection.
It’s a crowded backfield
As we mentioned before, there’s no guarantee that Michel even makes the roster ahead of the 2021 season. There are seven total backs on the depth chart including him. We can imagine that both Harris and White will be on the team come week one pending some type of incident. Then the rookie Stevenson will probably be given a spot because he was just drafted. That leaves Michel, Taylor, and pre-season legend Tyler Gaffney. I can not imagine that the Pats are going to carry that many running backs on the 53 man roster. Sure, Taylor is practice squad eligible and Gaffney probably won’t be much more than a camp body, but five is still a lot to have on your gameday roster. Plus I imagine Taylor has no interest in just settling for a practice squad spot.
It’s going to be a tough camp for Michel. There isn’t a whole lot of room for him to stand out, so he’ll have to make the most of his slim opportunities through camp and pre-season. It’s going to be a competitive camp for the running backs this year, and that’s exactly what you want in pre-season. Competitive energy breeds the most successful results long-term.
Unfortunately, Sony Michel hasn’t lived up to the first-round hype. He’s proven to be the second-best running back out of his own school from his own draft class. Nick Chubb has surpassed anything Michel has done throughout his career. Showcasing more talent, more availability, and simply just being better. Michel is still lacking as a runner and is truly one-dimensional, having little to no receiving ability. He’s simply just another guy in this league, and that’s not what first-round selections are supposed to be in this league. Even if it was at the back end, first-round selections are supposed to be day one, star potential contributors.
To be blunt, Michel hasn’t really contributed much to the table since day one. His rookie season continues to be the highlight of his career, and it’s led to two seasons of disappointment out of a running back everybody in New England was convinced would be a star contributor. This has Laurence Maroney written all over it, and Patriots fans are getting impatient. As they should be, this would be another bust mark on Belichick’s draft resume.
It’ll be interesting to see how, if at all, Michel fits in this backfield in 2021. It’s crowded, and he’s without a certain role. Looking beyond camp even, his fifth-year option has been declined. He’ll be a free agent in 2022. He needs to show out this year, or his career in a Patriots uniform could be done for.
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