University Of Georgia Running Back, Sony Michel, Has The Looks Of A Three Down Starter In The NFL.
As many NFL teams continue moving toward the committee style approach to the running back position, the three-down starter has become a rare breed. Teams focus their running backs on specific roles within an offense to maximize the player’s strengths and minimize their weaknesses. This allows teams to invest less draft capital in trying to find the “complete prospect” because, well, complete prospects are not easy to come by.
Sony Michel, while not an elite prospect, is a well rounded prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft that could provide a team with a legitimate three-down starter at the next level. He certainly has weaknesses to his game, but makes up for his flaws in other areas and, most importantly, has the tools to contribute in the passing game as well as pass protection.
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Sony Michel Strengths:
One of Sony Michel’s greatest strengths is his aggressiveness to the hole. Michel is very quick to start getting upfield and work toward positive yardage. He rarely dances in the backfield or loses yardage, because Michel makes positive yardage his first priority.
For many backs, this decisiveness and aggressiveness to the hole comes at the expense of patience. While fellow Georgia running back Nick Chubb finds a good balance leaning on the patient side, Sony Michel finds a strong balance of patience and aggressiveness on the decisive side. Michel certainly will wait for holes to open, wait for blockers to set up, and let the play develop in front of him, but he has a good knack for getting downhill in a hurry. He attacks the line of scrimmage without turning himself into a battering ram.
On the play below, Michel leans inside for an instant to keep the defensive line flowing to the right, but as soon as his tackle seals off the defender, he gets moving north and south.
This north and south running style will help him in the NFL with teams that don’t create a lot of space for him. He will take anything that he is given.
Sony Michel’s defining trait is his burst. He has the ability to get to his top speed in a hurry, and this helps to minimize most of the flaws in his game.
Sony Michel’s burst pairs very well with his north and south running style, allowing him to get a lot of momentum in a little amount of time. He decisively makes his move upfield and gets moving very quickly.
On the play below, watch how quickly Sony Michel is able to get moving after his initial stutter step. He’s got that zero-to-sixty speed that is going to break him some big runs at the next level.
Beyond the obvious, Michel’s top end burst is another trait that will help him make the most of every run. It doesn’t take him long to get to the line of scrimmage and, when he gets there, he can eat up yards in a hurry before defenders are able to close in.
Sony Michel is a physical runner that is not afraid to lower his shoulder. In some ways this works in his favor. In others, this can hinder his game. For now, let’s focus on the positives. Sony Michel does not shy away from contact. He isn’t afraid of taking a hit, and he will lower his shoulder and attack the defender.
This helps him pick up extra yards at the collision point, and lends itself well to his tendency to attack the line of scrimmage aggressively, as well as his burst to get up to speed quickly.
On the play below, watch SOny Michel lower his shoulder, get behind his pads, and fall forward. This is exactly what you want to see out of a back in close quarters like what he is facing in the play below. There is no room laterally to either side, so Michel takes what he can get, attacks the defender, and picks up a few extra yards.
Most running backs do not excel in pass protection at the college level. Whether it is that they ahven’t been properly coached, or that they haven’t fully developed physically, it just isn’t something that running backs are usually polished at.
Sony Michel, while still not NFL ready in this area, is far further along in the development of this skill than most of the incoming 2018 NFL Draft prospects.
He has a good build, his bench press (generally not an important test) indicates that he spends a good deal of time in the weight room, he shows a willingness to block and, most importantly, he doesn’t look completely lost when he is asked to protect the passer.
His ability as a pass protector is something that is going to help his value immensely right out of the gate. Michel doesn’t have to leave the field on passing downs, and his pass protection skills help categorize him as a potential three down starter at the next level.
The ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is a strength of Sony Michel’s game, but I’m not sure his ability in this area is anything more than serviceable. He can certainly be used out of the backfield, and his receiving skills aren’y going to limit him in anyway, but I think that a lot of people are overstating his receiving skills based strictly on his production in this area.
Michel can catch the ball, but he doesn’t have special hands for a running back and he isn’t necessarily a crisp route runner. Michel’s strength in this area is that his burst allows him to turn and run to create immediate RAC yards. This is certainly an advantage, so I don’t want to understate it, I just believe that a lot of people are overselling his ability out of the backfield.
Between his adequate pass protection and receiving ability, Michel should never have to leave the field.
Sony Michel runs with tenacity. This is something that you can’t teach, something that very rarely develops in a player. It is a trait that you either have, or you don’t. Sony Michel has it. He runs hard. He doesn’t take plays off. When he has the ball in his hands, he will fight for every yard.
His balance and pure power are just average, but his effort helps to make up for some of what he lacks. As is the case with much of Michel’s game, his strengths help to minimize his weaknesses, rounding out his game nicely.
Big Play Threat
Sony Michel has good-not-great top end speed. He has below average skills in the open field. He tends to attack defenders, rather than run around them. None of this adds up to a big play type of player. Sony Michel manages to rip of big runs with regularity despite this. He attacks the hole, gets to his top speed, and if there is daylight, Michel is running to it.
Snny Michel did a really good job throughout his collegiate career of recognizing the big-play-moments and getting downfield in a no-nonsense fashion. When he finds a crease, and there is open field in front of him, Sony Michel is off to the races.
Sony Michel Weaknesses:
I think that some people are going to disagree with me here. To those people, before you assume that I’m wrong here, go back to the tape with this section in mind. I think that Sony Michel’s power is a weakness for him. Sure, he bowls into defenders. Sure, he breaks a tackle here and there (not nearly as many as you’d hope for someone with his physical running style). The problem that I see when I watch is tape is that his power seems to be purely based on momentum.
Sony Michel doesn’t seem to have the ability to move a pile or run through arm tackles without a good head of steam. While other physical backs, notably Nick Chubb, can create yards after contact with leg drive and strength, Sony Michel relies on his momentum to carry him through defenders.
This is a little strange to me, given that burst generally comes with powerful legs, but his lack of power shows up often in his inability to stay on his feet through contact as well. Regardless of the why, it is what I see on tape and I think that, if you revisit his games, you’ll see the same thing that I do.
Obviously these are isolated plays below, but this seems to come up time and time again. You’ll see that when first contact is made with Michel, he is already stuffed. The second defender probably wasn’t even necessary to stuff this run. The first defender had lost all leverage and only got an arm on Michel, but Sony Michel went basically no where on contact. He didn’t have any momentum and wasn’t able to create yards after contact without it.
Another example below, Sony Michel actually lunged into this defender, but was unable to get any push. After the lack of initial yards gained, the lunge prevented him from being able to drive his legs and continue pushing forward.
What is concerning to me about this, is that Sony Michel benefited from some excellent blocking in Georgia. He often had wide lanes and plenty of room to run. The times that this showed up is when there wasn;t a lot of space to run. At the next level, there are going to be many more situations like this than what he experienced in college. How is he going to hold up against NFL caliber defenders when he doesn’t have the benefit of gaping holes in the defense?
Another curious weakness of Michel’s game. Give the burst that Sony Michel displays, you would think that he would be explosive laterally. This has not been the case in the film that I watched. Michel does well at avoiding defenders in the backfield, shows good anticipation, and his lateral agility is on display behind the line of scrimmage before he gets moving upfield.
Once Sony Michel starts moving, the lateral agility tends to disappear. He often rounds corners rather than cutting, offering more predictable paths for defenders, and he doesn’t show elusiveness or the ability to cut back behind his blockers efficiently at the next level. Sony Michel is mostly a straight line runner that doesn’t possess the wiggle that you want to see out of a back that has his north and south explosiveness.
On the play below, Sony Michel has the the opportunity to break the run outside for the big play. He never puts his foot in the ground and rounds his path to the outside rather than breaking that way. This prevents him from getting past the defender for the big run down the sideline.
He often abandons elusiveness all together in the open field. In the run below, rather than cutting back, he opts to attack the defender when there was probably plenty of space to get more yards back to the inside. His ability in the open field is pretty disappointing, given the explosiveness that you see from him. When he finds daylight, he will make the most of it, but with defenders in the open field, he doesn’t show the ability to regularly beat the defender and get big time gains.
This is probably the scariest of Michel’s flaws in terms of his playing time in the NFL. Losing fumbles can get you benched. Sony Michel has a problem with losing fumbles. Sony Michel is a talented back that should be able to see the field on all three downs as long as he can hang onto the football. Ball security is something that some players have had success with fixing at the NFL level. It is something the Sony Michel needs to focus on improving i he wants to stay in the good graces of his coaches at the next level.
Sony Michel is a good running back. He is well rounded and really does a good job of minimizing his weaknesses with his own strengths. I think that Michel is going to find a home as a true three down back in the NFL and has the potential to be a solid starter for a team.
I don’t know that Sony Michel has any “special” traits that are going to elevate him above the competition, but his flaws are minimal, and he does a lot of things well. This should make for a quality starter, even if he never elevates himself to a “star” level player.
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Click HERE For the Comprehensive 2018 NFL Draft Database.