By:Jesse Patterson July 20th 2020
It was getting late in my recent #SFBX draft and I was desperate for some upside running depth. I kept missing out on the top-tier running backs in the beginning rounds and found myself taking value at other positions early, thus leaving me short-handed at arguably the most important position in fantasy leagues. In the 11th round, I was setting up my pre-draft list, (as all good SFB players should do rather than frustrating league mates by milking the clock), and was scrolling through the running back list when a familiar name stood out to me. Had this former consensus top-five rookie draft selection from 2018 already fallen this far down rankings? I ended up pulling the trigger and selecting a player who was selected as the third running back off the board, 31st overall to the New England Patriots just three drafts ago. What had happened to former Georgia Bulldog Sony Michel that has led him to drop to the 107th ranked player in the latest ADP data at DLF? One year ago, as players were beginning to prepare for training camp, Michel occupied the 49th spot on the very same ADP list. Why is he being overlooked and forgotten in dynasty leagues, when he is still just 25 years old and with limited wear and tear on his body, with under 500 total career rushing attempts?
Michel enters his third professional season under team control through at least the 2021 season, though the Patriots do have a fifth-year player option available to lock him up through 2022 should they determine there is value to the team. Picking up his option year would carry Michel’s contract through to the termination of his teammate Damien Harris. Yes, Michel is recovering from a late-spring surgical procedure on a troublesome foot, but recent reports indicate that his rehab and recovery are going well. His status for the start of training camp (assuming we have a training camp at all) will determine how much fantasy owners will need to factor this in when placing a value on him and it should be noted this injury has nothing to do with his worrisome knee. A lack of organized team activities will be something that affects all the running backs on the Patriots roster, especially when you consider that there will be a new quarterback under center for the first time since 2001. Michel does have the advantage of being allowed to rehab at team facilities as he recovers. As of this moment, nobody can know for certain what roles will be occupied by which running backs in an offense led by either Cam Newton or Jarred Stidham. The early-career Newton, who frustrated fantasy players by stealing precious goal line touches has been replaced in recent years by a less risk-taking version who protects his body and allows the running back to pound short-yardage opportunities into the end zone. I do expect him to be slightly more involved with his legs than statue-like Tom Brady has been in past years, but not like he was in his 2015 10 rushing touchdown season.
Pass-catching dynamo James White is almost assuredly locked into his typical role, but he is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency following the season. As we have seen in the past with players like Dion Lewis, New England is not likely to get into a bidding war for an aging runner when there are other higher priority positions to think of. Fellow veteran Rex Burkhead recently restructured his own deal to remain with the club, but is also scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end and will be 30 years old by Week 1. Both Burkhead and White are best utilized in passing situations, leaving 2019 third round pick Harris as the only real challenger to Michel’s running role in the Patriots backfield. When New England selected Harris 87th overall, it was thought of as an insurance pick in the event Michel’s well-documented knee injuries caused him to miss time. Despite the elevated risk, however, Michel played in all 16 games last season as well as New England’s playoff loss to Tennessee. Harris meanwhile was only active for two games in 2019, rushing four times for 12 yards. His role will likely increase this season, especially if Michel is forced to begin training camp on the PUP list. Harris will have a short window of time to prove to the coaching staff that he should have an expanded role this coming year, though in the end I don’t see this as a deterrent to my valuation of Michel. If anything, the two should complement each other nicely in that they can easily be substituted for each other regardless of situation and New England has always shown a propensity to utilizing multiple backs in each game.
Should the Patriots decide to let either Burkhead or White hit the open market in 2021, Michel can also be trusted in the passing attack. Over his collegiate career at Georgia, the Bulldogs actually utilized this facet of his game, as he hauled in 64 catches for 621 yards and 6 receiving scores. In New England he has also been targeted 31 times over the past two seasons despite the presence of White and Burkhead, and even earned preseason praise for his pass-catching prowess last year at this time. If the Patriots’ management and coaching team envision a future without White/Burkhead, it would make some sense to see what they can get out of Michel in the passing game this coming season, giving him a slight PPR bump. Once again, Harris could also be a complement in this area, hauling in 52 passes himself over his four years at Alabama, though for only 407 yards and 2 touchdowns, and he has yet to show this ability in his limited playing action at the professional level. With similar size, Michel stands 5’11 and weighs 215lbs to Harris’ 5’11 213lb frame, and a similar skillset it is easy to envision a future in Foxboro where New England is deploying a 1A/1B rotation of both Michel and Harris in any and all roles in the running game as early as the 2021 season.
Available at a discounted rate, Sony Michel may very well be a buy in dynasty leagues for owners with an eye not only on the present but the future. Michel has the skill and ability to finally break the 1000 rushing yard plateau which has just barely eluded him in his first two seasons, (931 and 912 yards in his first two years) while utilizing his comfort in the passing game to add to his value and versatility during this upcoming campaign. For a player who is currently being selected as the RB37 according to DLF’s ADP, the time is now to send a discounted offer to owners who may still be stressing about his injury history and the constant confusion in New England’s backfield. Michel can be added for cheap and has the ability to deliver RB2 value and upside for the next few seasons. Factor in that any sort of delay to the season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic will actually benefit Michel as he continues to rehab his foot injury, and he seems to be screaming ‘buy me’ at this point.