When the Patriots selected Sony Michel with the 31st pick in the 2018 draft, it was just the second time in the Bill Belichick era they drafted a running back in the first round.
The first was in 2006 where they took Minnesota standout Laurence Maroney, who would play just four seasons in New England before he was out of football for good at 25.
There was significant pressure on Michel to produce entering his rookie year, and a knee procedure that caused him to miss all of the preseason and Week 1 of the regular season didn’t help him get off to the best start. But the University of Georgia product rebounded in a big way.
After two quiet weeks to seemingly get acclimated to the NFL, Michel broke out over a three-game stretch against the Dolphins, Colts and Chiefs. Here are his numbers and the Patriots’ point totals on those weeks:
NE 38, MIA 7: 25 car, 112 yds, 1 TD
NE 38, IND 24: 18 car, 98 yds, 1 TD
NE 43, KC 40: 24 car, 106 yards, 2 TD
When the Patriots leaned on Michel for a heavy workload, New England's offense flourished. His presence set up the play-action passing game beautifully, giving the Pats yet another way to demoralize opposing defenses. Unfortunately, another knee injury would sideline Michel for the following two weeks. Right as he was rolling.
Down the stretch of the regular season, Michel cracked the 100-yard mark just twice and finished his first campaign with 209 carries, 931 yards and six touchdowns. A solid first season, but what if he hadn’t missed those two games in the middle of the year?
We got a taste of what Michel as a featured back could do for this Patriots offense again in the 2019 postseason. He led the league with 336 rushing yards and six touchdowns in three playoff games, most notably pummeling the Chargers in the divisional round with three scores.
Michel is seemingly healthier than he was at this time last year, participating in training camp and on track to play in the preseason. If he can stay healthy for an entire year running behind an interior line featuring Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason and David Andrews, he could be in store for a Pro Bowl season.
While Michel doesn’t have a terribly high ceiling as a member of what’s usually a crowded Patriots backfield, he can reach his peak relatively quickly. Young running backs tend to get most of their touches before their second contract, and with Tom Brady playing into his age-42 season, you have to think the Patriots will lean on the running game a bit more over the next two seasons. And we already know what a heavily featured Michel can do for the offense.
One way he could reach a new level is to become more of a threat in the passing game. This is more on the coaching staff to utilize what is probably an underrated skill Michel showcased in college, but not his rookie year. However, with James White and Rex Burkhead still on the roster, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Michel gets much of a look as a pass-catcher.
He has the tools to be a successful lead back in the NFL, especially if he’s maximized by the Pats staff. But Michel doesn’t have that superstar ceiling the Saquon Barkleys and Todd Gurleys of the league do.
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