It’s not hyperbole to say that Sony Michel is New England’s best running back since Corey Dillon. Despite missing the entirety of the preseason with a knee injury, the rookie first-round pick finished 2018 with 931 yards and six touchdowns on 209 carries. He added on another 336 yards and six touchdowns during New England’s run to Super Bowl LIII. Trusting any member of New England’s backfield in fantasy football is always risky, but can you make an exception for Sony Michel?
Fantasy Football 2019 Season Preview: Sony Michel
Sony Michel battled injuries but was still one of the NFL’s better running backs when healthy. As a rookie, Michel played in 13 games and finished the season as the RB28 in half-PPR scoring. This was an encouraging performance, but that finish doesn’t tell the whole story with Michel.
Sony Michel suffered two significant injuries: one during training camp and one during Week Seven’s matchup against the Chicago Bears. New England always brought him back slowly, having him play as a backup in his first game back before giving him a full workload the next week. Michel started and finished 10 games as New England’s primary running back, recording 184 carries for 844 yards and six touchdowns. When extrapolated to a full 16-game season, Michel would have finished with 294 carries for 1,350 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Everyone jokes about Bill Belichick’s unpredictable running back usage, but Michel always saw a consistent workload. Michel recorded 11 or fewer carries in just three games all season long. Two of those games were his first games back from injury, and the third was when he suffered a knee injury early into the contest. Michel never saw fewer than 13 carries and even eclipsed the 20-carry mark on four separate occasions when he was completely healthy.
The biggest downside with Michel’s on-field play came in the passing game. Michel received just 11 targets as a rookie, hauling in seven of those passes for just 50 yards and no touchdowns. It’s hard to imagine this role increasing, as James White and Rex Burkhead are more gifted in the passing game.
The New England Patriots decided that three running backs just weren’t enough and added Damien Harris in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Harris projects as a north-south runner who excels in short-yardage situations. While he doesn’t offer much in the passing game, he could easily take away some goal line work.
Bill Belichick is notorious for using a wide variety of running backs, and that trend should continue in 2019. Sony and Harris will see the early-down carries while Burkhead and White will play in clear passing situations. This usage will obviously hinder Michel’s snap count and thus hurt his fantasy value.
Making matters worse is that Michel can easily be phased out of a gameplan. Nobody changes up their week-to-week strategy more than Belichick, and that’s bad news for Michel. If the Patriots decide to go for a pass-heavy gameplan, Michel won’t give you anything in fantasy. While he should benefit from run-heavy plans, he possessed the possibility to vanish each and every game.
The cherry on top of this disastrous sundae is Michel’s health status. The Georgia product has a degenerative knee condition which makes him a major health risk. All running backs are injury prone due to the physical nature of the position, but Michel carries more risk than most. Michel has talent, but that won’t do much if he’s injured or part of a four-headed backfield.
Sony Michel Average Draft Position
Fantasy Football Calculator currently has Michel as the 33rd pick off the board, sandwiched between Derrick Henry and Aaron Jones. This makes him the 17th running back off the board and puts him ahead of notable players like Amari Cooper, Devonta Freeman, and Mark Ingram.
Barring an injury, this is probably too early for Sony. Nobody doubts his talent, but his situation is just too unfavorable. James White and Rex Burkhead will take all the passing downs, meaning that Michel’s production is entirely dependent upon his work on the ground.
Michel was able to maintain strong fantasy numbers in 2019, but he’ll struggle to replicate that performance. New England added Damien Harris to complement Michel and he will steal some short-yardage and goal-line touches.
As long as there are four healthy starters in New England’s backfield, there’s no way Michel should be a third-round pick. Until he has a better opportunity at a higher snap count, it’s better to draft a guy like Ingram or Kerryon Johnson.
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