The New England Patriots, who will be off until training camp starts in late July, currently have 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s former first-round investments.
Name: Sony Michel
Position: Running back
Jersey number: 26
Size: 5’11, 215 lbs.
2018 review: When the Patriots were on the clock with the 31st selection of the 2018 NFL draft, they opted to invest in an offensive backfield that had just lost Dion Lewis in free agency. Their target: Georgia running back Sony Michel — and the investment would pay huge dividends for the club en route to recapturing the Vince Lombardi Trophy; with Michel being a key cog in New England’s offensive machinery along the way.
This all happened despite the rookie being forced to sit out most of training camp and the preseason. In early August, Michel hurt his knee and was kept out of practice and in-game action until week two of the regular season. His knee would bother him later in the year as well, as he took a shot in week seven that eventually forced him to exit the contest and be declared inactive for the Patriots’ next two games as well.
When he was healthy, however, Michel was terrific in his first season in the Patriots’ system. Being used primarily as an early-down and short-yardage back, he appeared in thirteen regular season contests and was on the field for a combined 320 of New England’s 1,119 total offensive snaps (28.6%). While this number does not seem to show a big role, it is more reflective of the club’s rotational approach to the running back position than Michel himself.
His numbers further prove this: the former Bulldog carried the football 209 times during the regular season for 931 yards (4.5 yards per attempt) and 6 touchdowns. Had he not missed virtually four games because of injury, the rookie would certainly have cracked the 1,000-yard barrier during the regular season. This speaks not just for his productivity, but also for the Patriots’ willingness to give him considerable snaps early in his career.
Michel also saw some time as a pass blocker — he gave up one sack in 23 pass-protection snaps — and as a receiver, catching 7 passes for 50 yards. By far his biggest role, however, was serving as New England’s main ball-carrier and a complementary piece to primary receiving options James White and Rex Burkhead. He looked comfortable in this role almost from the get go, and proved himself a reliable player (for example, Michel fumbled just once: on the aforementioned shot taken to his knee).
Never was that more apparent than during the playoffs. Running behind an outstanding group of blockers, Michel was able to rush for 336 yards and 6 touchdowns on 71 attempts (4.7 yards per carry). His crowning achievement, however, was Super Bowl 53: he ran for 94 yards on 18 handoffs and scored the game’s lone touchdown, and continuously delivered when it counted the most — thus contributing mightily to the Patriots winning the title.
2019 preview: Preparations for the 2019 season started with Michel being forced to sit out parts of New England’s offseason workouts after undergoing a knee arthroscopy. While the procedure itself is relatively minor and the running back expected ready to go when training camp starts in late July, it underlines the Patriots’ need to build a deep running back group despite the former first-rounders outstanding rookie campaign.
The addition of Damien Harris in the third round of this year’s draft was just that: Harris is expected to serve as the 1B alongside 1A Michel — White and Burkhead will once again be the main receiving options out of the backfield — and as such could cut into the veteran’s numbers this season. While the eventual usage of the two players remains to be seen, it would not be a surprise if the team goes with a rotational approach when it comes to the early-down and short-yardage role.
This could turn out to be a positive for Michel, however, and help him take the famed second-year jump. He saw plenty of action in the Patriots’ run-heavy offensive approach last year, after all, and adding more depth might a) help keep him fresh throughout the season, and b) limit the risk of injury due to limited exposure to hits. While this might be a blow to all the Sony Michel fantasy football owners, it could prove to be the best plan moving forward for the Patriots.