The facts and the figures on the newest Rams running back
The LA Rams acquired Sony Michel on Wednesday morning, sending some day three draft picks to the New England Patriots in an effort to shore up their backfield, about one month after losing Cam Akers for the rest of the season. You will hear a few things about Michel this week, if you haven’t already, and again when the Rams host the Chicago Bears at SoFi Stadium in Week 1.
What’s true? Better yet, what matters?
Here’s most of what I think you’ll hear and should know about Sony Michel.
“Sony Michel was drafted ahead of Nick Chubb”
Yes, Michel was the 31st pick and Chubb was the 35th pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. Which does not matter. Who you were drafted ahead of or behind has no bearing on who you are and this fact certainly doesn’t impact the Rams.
Michel and Chubb were actually kind of equal after their rookie seasons, Michel even helped the Patriots win that year’s Super Bowl, but Chubb has taken off and Michel has trailed off over the last two years.
“Sony Michel is injury prone”
We should probably just retire the phrase “injury prone” because it practically implies that people running their bodies into other people who are running their bodies into them … isn’t supposed to result in injuries. Of course, some players getting hurt more often than others and somehow I’m supposed to be “surprised” when it’s the guys who do the most bodyslamming that get hurt the most often: running backs.
Before he got to the NFL, Michel had suffered a torn ACL, a broken shoulder blade, a broken forearm (in an ATV accident), an ankle injury, and another knee injury.
Knee issues caused Michel to miss three games during his rookie season, and a quadriceps injury cost him six games in 2020, while also spending some time on the COVID-19 reserve list.
Terms like “injury prone” don’t give us any sort of guarantee or glimpse into whether or not a player will miss games in the future. Nobody can do that. Michel played a full 16-game season in 2019, and he also appeared in all four Patriots playoff games that happened during his tenure in New England.
And as far as everyone knows, he’s been healthy all summer and feels fine right now. If he isn’t healthy, the Rams would find out during the physical portion of the deal.
“Sony Michel was a beast in the playoffs”
During New England’s 2018 Super Bowl run including Michel rushing for 129 yards and three touchdowns in the divisional round; 113 yards and two touchdowns in the AFC Championship win over the Kansas City Chiefs; and 94 yards with a touchdown in the Patriots’ 13-3 win over the Rams in the Super Bowl.
Sony Michel was unstoppable during the 2018 playoffs. pic.twitter.com/k4hdZ9KiJ6
— Pats Pulpit (@patspulpit) August 25, 2021
Michel wasn’t as effective the next year, carrying the ball 14 times for 61 yards in a wild card loss to the Tennessee Titans, but neither was New England’s roster as a whole and Michel was hardly the problem that day.
“Sony Michel is not that good”
The fact that Michel has no 1,000-yard seasons under his belt (but two 900-yard seasons, including one that occurred over 13 games, and if you include his playoffs, Michel rushed for 1,267 yards in 16 games in 2018) and that he missed the middle of 2020 might lead some to believe that the fourth-year running back has done no good recently.
Michel done good recently.
In a 36-20 win over the LV Raiders in Week 3 of last season, Michel caught a 14-yard pass in the first quarter, then rushed for 30 yards on his next three carries, then had a 38-yard run on his first play of the second half.
His next run went for 48 yards.
There sure appeared to be some explosiveness left for Michel at that point, but then he missed the next seven games. Michel took a moment to re-settle after returning, but in the final three games of 2020: 36 carries, 219 yards, 6.08 yards per carry, and four catches on four targets for 68 yards.
The Rams made a trade for former Patriots first round Runningback Sony Michel. Coach McVay is looking to strengthen an injury riddle + inexperienced RB room.
Michel is coming off a season which he averaged 5.7 yards per carry. Here are his highlights of 2020 pic.twitter.com/GZuLlESH0O
— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) August 25, 2021
“Sony Michel can’t pass block”
I actually don’t know if this is a thing that people regularly say but it gives me an opportunity to share this de-cleat moment from Michel against the Eagles last week:
Sony Michel taking lives out here pic.twitter.com/JR1YLNJlLN
— Jon Tweets Sports (@jontweetssports) August 20, 2021
He got similar love for a pass block against the Giants in 2019:
Sunshine: Louie let him through.
(If you know, you know) pic.twitter.com/MDIbZcx0Wo
— Yahoo Fantasy Sports (@YahooFantasy) October 11, 2019
“Sony Michel can’t catch the ball”
This seems to be one of the bigger potential myths out there about Michel. The better way to put it: Sony Michel has spent three years in a running backs room with one of the greatest receiving backs of our lifetimes.
In Michel’s three years in New England, teammate James White caught 208 of 280 targets, gaining 1,771 yards and 13 touchdowns on those plays. Michel carried the ball, White caught it, and Bill Belichick wasn’t looking for reasons to change that methodology while it was working.
As a matter of fact, coming out of Georgia after spending his career there as a complement to Chubb, Michel was regarded as being one of the best pass-catching backs in the draft:
He ranked No. 2 among returning SEC running backs with at least 20 targets in yards per route run (YPRR) at 1.16.
Dropping just one of his 22 catchable targets last season, Michel ranked No. 2 in drop percentage among that same group of backs.
Michel is at his best after the catch, as he has forced 28 missed tackles on 55 career receptions with the Bulldogs.
During his Patriots career, Michel was only targeted 40 times, catching 26 of those for 258 yards and a touchdown.
With the Rams, we might expect him to come away as the better option as a receiver than Darrell Henderson, and potentially Michel has the ability to fill a three-down role, if necessary. I identified Michel as a potential LA Rams traded target last week, and this is what Pats Pulpit writer Bern Buchmasser told me:
So far, the Patriots have used Michel primarily as an early-down back with little usage in the passing game (despite him showing some promise in this area at Georgia). He has played in both zone and man-blocking schemes, and has found success both on off-tackle or bruising up the middle.
He’s not the most elusive runner, but he has a downhill mentality and knows how to read and follow his blocks.
He also has shown some good ball security, fumbling only three times in 649 career touches.
The main problems are his lack of versatility – or the Patriots’ lack of trust in him to play a more versatile role – and his injury issues. He’s currently in his fourth training camp, but it is the first he has not opened on PUP. When healthy and playing behind a stable offensive line, however, he can be a good back. Working as a 1B behind Damien Harris last year, he averaged a solid 5.7 yards per carry.
I’d also say he’s not the best player when it comes to making something out of nothing. If he has a good O-line he can be good, if not he will be inconsistent.
How New England chose to use Michel may not necessarily reflect how the Rams will use him. The Patriots did not trade Michel this week because they think he’s a bad football player or anything; they dealt him because 2019 third round pick Damien Harris moved ahead of him as the other starter next to White, while fourth round rookie Rhamondre Stevenson has so far looked like a player that Belichick won’t want to keep off of the field, and he also has veteran Brandon Bolden as further insurance.
This move to LA could just be the beginning for Michel.
At least … that’s what I hear.