In the football journalism game, you’ve got to check yourself before you go declaring someone is the real thing two-thirds of the way into his rookie season. Especially when he’s coming off his best game. You don’t want to get too far out over your skis and leave yourself wide open to charges of homerism. God forbid. But when you were on record as saying you didn’t want those skis in the first place, that’s not homerism. That’s admitting-you-were-wrongism. And it takes a big man to say that.
Which brings me to Sony Michel. I decided years ago I would never be surprised by any Patriots draft day move. I think that Come to Jesus Moment on that came in 2012 when I was standing in a bar filled with Patriots draft nerds watching the 2nd round and they selected Tavon Wilson. Not only did we not see that pick coming, not one of us had ever heard of him. And none of the people holding draft preview magazines could find him listed. So I vowed I would never again be left with my jaw hanging by anything they ever did again. And I kept that vow. Until they pulled the trigger on Sony Michel with the 31st pick this year.
It just so little sense to me. Yes, they needed to replace Dion Lewis, who led the NFL in rushing over the last half of last year. But since when was that a Round 1 priority? Since they took Laurence “Slo Mo” Maroney in 2006, that’s when. Since then, they’ve always been able to find a reasonable facsimile of an elite lead back. A LeGarrette Blount or some BenJonas Gray-Lewis type. Besides, the book on Michel from all the scouting publications was that he was a big play runner at Georgia, and those kinds of home run hitters never transition well to the pros because those runs aren’t available. Runs like this:
In all Sunday, Michel had those two runs over 30 yards, a 12-yarder and six more of between 5 and 9 yards. That’s on 21 carries. Plus he had two splash plays called back on offensive penalties, a 25-yarder (holding, Trent Brown) and a 16-yarder (illegal motion, Cordarelle Patterson).
This was following, according to Michel, Bill Belichick challenged the team to be more consistent in the running game after getting their nads kicked in by the Titans in their last game. Against a Jets defense that, while nowhere near the David Harris/Bart Scott/Muhammed Wilkerson Jets of a few years ago, is still a decent run defense. And he still managed to:
–Create six missed tackles on his 21 carries
–Gain 67 of his 133 yards after contact
–Average 3.19 yards after contact per rushing attempt, his second highest of the season
And a lot of that production came after he got bent nearly to the breaking point, like a Glo-Stick someone was trying to activate:
In the six games he’s played since really being installed as a full time back in Week 4, he’s put together these four games:
vs. Miami: 25 attempts, 112 yards, 4.5 YPA, 1 TD
vs. Indy: 18 attempts, 98 yards, 5.4 YPA, 1 TD
vs. KC: 24 attempts, 106 yards, 4.2 YPA, 2 TDs
vs. Jets: 21 attempts, 133 yards, 6.3 YPA, 1 TD
With that, here is the complete list of running backs in Patriots history that have had three 100-yard rushing performances in their first eight career games:
Just him. Curtis Martin didn’t do it. Franchise leading rusher Sam Cunningham didn’t. Neither did their two 1,000 rookies, John Stephens and Robert Edwards. Only Michel, and he had a 98-yarder as well.
On the season, he’s got respectable averages, despite missing the beginning of the season and being part time player for three other games. How respectable, you ask? Thank you for your question, I’ll be happy to help you with that:
Sony Michel – 15.9 attempts per game, 73.3 yards per game, 4.6 YPA
Saquon Barkley – 15.5 attempts per game, 75.4 yards per game, 4.8 YPA
Barkley is an undisputed generational talent who was being mentioned with some of the all time best coming into the draft. And has for the most part lived up to the hype. And yet if you turn your head and look at the average production of both rookies really quickly, you can’t tell whose is whose.
I’ll concede that having the offensive line healthy against the Jets helped immensely. And he agrees:
Which is exactly what you want to see out of any running back, particularly a rookie. Well, mostly you want to see him be productive, durable, dependable and tough. And he’s checking all those boxes so far. And only getting better.
All of which is my long and meandering way of saying, I was wrong. The Patriots made the right call drafting Sony Michel. It’s very big of me to admit that. But it’s also one of the very rare moments I’m not only wrong, but glad I was. #InBillWeTrust