The state of Georgia is known for peaches, Outkast and running backs.
Ever since the dawn of time, UGA has had the most productive running backs in college football; From Herschel Walker to Knowshon Moreno to Todd Gurley. Now, people know how damn good Nick Chubb is, but the Bulldogs have an embarrassment of riches waiting in the wings behind him.
Most notably is fellow senior Sony Michel. Michel has spent his entire career in relief in Chubb and only once did he get a featured role when Chubb got injured halfway through 2015. Because of this, Michel has only one season where he eclipsed 200 carries. A season where he averaged over five yards per carry on his way to an 1,100 yard, eight touchdown season where he also chipped in 270 receiving yards. Despite this one season where he really got to show his stuff, Michel has played Robin to Chubb’s Batman.
Of course, it is important to know that his place on the depth chart should not be an indictment of Michel. Nick Chubb is so damn good and you can count on one hand the running backs in the country that would start over him. So, despite the small sample size, it is important to evaluate Michel as an NFL talent... Because there is no doubt he deserves a bulk of carries in the league.
During his career, Sony has always been seen as the “lightning” to Nick Chubb’s “thunder” and it is easy to see why. Michel moves easily through college defense; accelerating immediately with the speed to pull away at the second level. His agility seems effortless as well, as he turns corners and changes angles without losing steam.
Up until this season however, it was fair to argue that the 215 pound running back lacked a certain physicality. Not for lack of effort, but he had a tendency to go down too often at first contact; something that impedes a lot of backs from getting featured roles in the NFL. However, there is a notable change this season not only in how Michel looks; but also how he plays.
Michel looks noticeably more muscled up this season and it reflects in his play. While he never shied from contact before; he actually makes an impact when he lowers his shoulder on players. He is bouncing off defenders, breaking arm tackles and rarely loses effort or speed in getting upfield.
Arm tackles at the line of scrimmage are nothing to a full speed Sony Michel and it’s hard not to love him lowering the shoulder on an incoming safety, even if it only generates a few more yards.
Contact at the line of scrimmage rarely slows down Michel. His wiggle and strength are incredibly generative offensively and here he is able to get a touchdown (not fully shown) where a lot of backs would not have been able to speed downfield after that type of early contact.
At this point in his career, Sony Michel only has 503 carries over the course of his three and a half seasons at Georgia. It would be shocking if he finished his career with any more than 650. To give some perspective, Saquon Barkley has 571 carries in one less season of playing and Leonard Fournette had over 600 carries in under three seasons. So, there is a very small sample size for Michel, but there is also very little tread on his tires.
NFL Comparison: While the college production is night and day; Sony Michel reminds me of Kareem Hunt coming out of Toledo. Both are “smaller” backs (5’10” and around 215 pounds) that thrive off of their agility, acceleration and physicality. Hunt was incredibly productive at Toledo, however, as a runner and receiver, but Michel has a Nick Chubb-sized difficulty in getting that same of featured role. Michel could get selected around the same time Hunt was elected, however, because what Michel lacks in production, he makes up for in efficiency against a tougher conference. Similar to Hunt, it would not surprise if Michel thrived if given a featured role in the NFL.
The Eagles should be prioritizing running back, but if they end up missing on some of the top guys; Michel would be a logical mid round player for them to target. While he is not the bruiser the team might need, he has a combination of speed and physicality that could help the offense immediately. His underutilized third down ability would be expanded in the NFL, as well and the Eagles would greatly benefit from that. While Michel will never be mentioned among the top five backs this season; he could massively outperform his draft slot a year from now.