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Rookie NFL Sleeper - Sony Michel (RB, NE)


Each year, there are several players who are undervalued following the NFL Draft. These youngsters are often thrust into competitive position groups, poor situations, or teams who didn't invest a first round pick as a glowing endorsement of their talents.

However, for fantasy purposes, the recent increase in skilled and productive players out of the gates means that there is incredible value to be had in drafting rookie players going into drafts. This is especially true for the running back position, where younger players tend to generally dominate early on in their careers, no matter when they were chosen in the draft.

After profiling Nick Chubb last time, now we are going to be talking about his college backfield partner, Sony Michel. Michel is another electric runner from Georgia who just could be a rookie sleeper that people would not trust going into drafts. Despite his situation, there is tremendous value and upside that Michel brings to the table which could be exploited by fantasy owners in the middle rounds of their drafts this upcoming season.

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Rookie Sleeper: Sony Michel (RB, NE)

Pros

Although he shared a college backfield with Nick Chubb, Michel showed that he has what it takes to lead a backfield on his own. After Chubb tore his ACL in 2015, Michel led the team in rushing with 1,161 yards through the ground and 270 through the air, finding the endzone 11 times. Despite rushing as the 1b runner to Chubb for the last two years, Michel has been absolutely electric. Last season, en route to Georgia's historic year, Michel had 1,227 yards on just 156 carries. Furthermore, although he was barely used through the air, he was still able to get a receiving touchdown (to go along with his 16 rushing scores). It's clear that Michel is a talented back with a three-down skillset who has the ability to take over a backfield at the next level after being underutilized in college.

Another strength to Michel's game is his ability to pass-protect. Michel is an excellent pass-blocker, which should guarantee him an immediate role on the Patriots coming into the season. In fact, Michel was one of the best pass-blockers in college football last year.

Finally, we get to Michel's draft cost. Belichick made a statement when he took Michel with the 31st pick in the 2018 NFL Draft after taking fellow Georgia offensive lineman Isaiah Wynne. Belichick has only used a first round pick on one running back prior to Michel (Laurence Maroney in 2006 - that didn't turn out too well). However, due to the significant draft cost associated with Michel, it's expected that he will see the field early and often in 2018 and beyond.

Cons

Michel has been known to fumble the football. In fact, Michel has fumbled 12 times since coming into college, something that head coach Bill Belichick does not stand for. Therefore, unless Michel can fix that aspect of his game, he will find it hard to see the field after the first few weeks of the season (just ask Mike Gillislee).

Furthermore, the Patriots have a host of backfield talent that they can utilize going into the season. Currently, the Patriots have five running backs on roster. Of those, recently signed Jeremy Hill has had productive seasons and will be fighting for a backup roster spot and potential goal-line role. Mike Gillislee started the 2017 season hot but faded after losing Belichick's trust and was a healthy scratch last season. Rex Burkhead just signed a new deal after having a highly productive 2017 on a limited amount of touches. Finally, James White has been an excellent receiving threat out of the backfield and has a defined role with the team. With all of these bodies, it is difficult to envision Michel having a monstrous workload coming out of the gate.

 

Outlook

When you are looking at rookie running backs, there really is nothing to go off of because they haven't produced anything at the NFL level that can be evaluated. Therefore, a lot of their projected roles are based on conjecture and coach-speak. However, with Sony Michel, fantasy owners may finally have a solution to the Patriots backfield.

Yes, Burkhead and White are being paid significant amounts to be with the team, but they have never shown that they can produce with more touches than what they have had to this point. Even with their involvement last season, Dion Lewis was able to finish as an RB1 before leaving in the offseason for the Tennessee Titans. The season before that, LeGarrette Blount rumbled his way to 1,000 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns before leaving for last year's Super Bowl Champs (Philadelphia Eagles).

We have seen this narrative play out before. Belichick traded for controversial wide receiver Randy Moss following the team's loss to the Indianapolis Colts in 2006 at the hands of Peyton Manning and and Marvin Harrison. Belichick realized he had to find a weapon for Tom Brady, and the rest is history. By using a committee of running backs ever since, Belichick was able to stay ahead of the league. Now, it seems Belichick wants to remove his running back committee in favor of a true workhorse back who could've assisted Tom Brady with reliable production on the ground in last year's Super Bowl defeat.

Even if this is incorrect and Michel merely becomes a piece of the Patriots backfield carousel, he can finish with Dion Lewis-like numbers in his rookie year based on his talent and draft pedigree (that's an RB1, remember). However, the upside that Michel has with a potential lead back role as a workhorse for one of the best teams in football is too good to pass up on. Although his ADP should rise over the summer, he will most likely be a mid to late round pick in redraft leagues. If he earns the spot, Sony Michel could be the rookie of the year and one of the best running backs in recent times, making him more than worth the lottery ticket pick that fantasy owners will use to acquire the young runner. Take the risk with Michel this offseason - you won't be disappointed.

 

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