From 2000 through 2017, the New England Patriots made a total of 157 picks in the NFL draft.
Running back was seldom one of them for Bill Belichick’s war room.
The Patriots called the names of only eight prospects at the position – if excluding fullbacks in Patrick Pass, Spencer Nead and Garrett Mills – over that span. The only teams to draft halfbacks as infrequently between 2000 and 2017 were the New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders.
But New England took a ninth last Thursday night.
In a place the organization had done so only once before under Belichick: the first round.
Georgia’s Sony Michel became the first back the Patriots selected there since Minnesota’s Laurence Maroney in 2006, and prior to calling his name at No. 31 overall, New England checked in as one of only a dozen teams that’d taken just a single back in the first round over the last 17 drafts.
Consider Michel an exception. The Patriots thought enough of the 5-foot-11, 214-pound Bulldog to make him one.
“Look, our responsibility is just to pick good football players,” director of player personnel Nick Caserio said of the Michel pick during his press conference later that night, via Patriots.com. “That’s the most important thing. We think he’s a good football player, so we picked the player. He’s got pretty good skills. He’s athletic. He’s good in space. He’s a strong runner for his size, 210-215 pounds, whatever he is. Our thing is to pick good football players who have good traits. However they get here, they get here. He gets the same opportunity when he gets here, so regardless of where they’re picked. We liked the player so we went ahead and picked him.”
A vote of confidence it should be.
Michel is the first running back drafted in any round by New England since James White went in the fourth four years ago. He is also just the fifth running back Belichick, or Caserio, has taken within the initial 100 picks.
Maroney, California’s Shane Vereen, LSU’s Stevan Ridley and Arizona State’s J.R. Remond sit in the archives as the others.
RUNNING BACKS DRAFTED BY PATRIOTS SINCE 2000
- No. 21 overall in 2006: Laurence Maroney
- No. 31 overall in 2018: Sony Michel
- No. 56 overall in 2011: Shane Vereen
- No. 73 overall in 2011: Stevan Ridley
- No. 76 overall in 2000: J.R. Redmond
- No. 128 overall in 2004: Cedric Cobbs
- No. 130 overall in 2014: James White
- No. 208 overall in 2007: Justise Hairston
- No. 237 overall in 2002: Antwoine Womack
A total of 44 running backs went in the first round of the draft from 2000 through 2017, per Pro Football Reference. Michel was the third to go there in 2018, after Penn State’s Saquon Barkley went No. 2 to the New York Giants and San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny went No. 27 overall to the Seattle Seahawks.
“I wasn’t sure,” Michel said on his post-draft conference call of the Day 1 arrival. “I was kind of just watching it, not really knowing what was going to happen. I was kind of ready for anything to happen, anything to happen at the moment. It was kind of a shocker for it to happen this way, but I’m just tremendously excited and honored.”
Michel amassed 3,638 rushing yards – the third-most in program history – for 33 touchdowns over 591 carries in his 47-game career at Georgia. He had 11 showings north of 100 rushing yards. He racked up 621 receiving yards and six more trips to the end zone on 64 catches as well. And while splitting the workload with eventual Cleveland Browns second-rounder Nick Chubb as a senior captain last fall, Michel logged just two starts but managed 7.9 yards per carry en route to 1,227 yards and 16 TDs on the ground.
The dozen fumbles on Michel’s resume didn’t deter New England. Neither did potential concerns of a bone-on-bone knee condition, as former Patriots assistant to the coaching staff Michael Lombardi discussed on his GM Street podcast for The Ringer – Michel says he’s healthy.
There’s reason to believe the Patriots are sold on both aspects, too. Enough to make Michel the second first-round running back since Belichick was named head coach.