In need of more weaponry around quarterback Tom Brady, the New England Patriots saw an opportunity and seized it in the NFL Draft, selecting Georgia star Sony Michel at No. 31 overall in the first round.
Michel is already turning heads at the team’s rookie mini-camp, showcasing elements of his game that made him one of the SEC’s most talented players — especially in the open field — during his tenure between the hedges.
“He’s a very physical guy for a guy that’s very good in the open field,” Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears told ESPN. “Most of those guys are scat-back guys [but] he has some stout to him. He’s not a little guy. He’s broad-shouldered. He’s a size player that can pound it away and can make things happen in the open space.”
Michel was every bit his own player with the Bulldogs despite playing alongside fellow five-star and NFL draft pick Nick Chubb. At times, the 5-foot-11, 212-pound energy burst overshadowed Chubb during his final season, notably during the College Football Playoff when Michel managed 181 yards and three scores on 11 carries against Oklahoma before knifing through Alabama’s defense with a 98-yard effort.
Michel found the end zone 13 times as a senior, five more than his previous high and improved his vision, averaging a career-best 7.2 yards per carry. Many suggested Michel may slip in the draft due to medical reasons, but that was not a deterrent for the Patriots, who also selected Michel’s college teammate, offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn, with their first pick at No. 23 overall.
An excellent inside zone and gap runner, Michel uses quick cuts to create space and get to the second level. A big play back, Michel had six touchdown runs of 15-plus yards, gaining 903 yards on those big plays for a breakaway percentage of 52.2, one of the best marks in the draft.
Michel, he is joining a backfield absolutely loaded with depth. Rex Burkhead, James White and Mike Gillislee return from last year’s team. Jeremy Hill joined on as a free agent. The Patriots aren’t asking Michel to be Curtis Martin or Le’Veon Bell. They are asking him to be Alvin Kamara, who happened to win last season’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award. They went Michel to make big plays in the passing game and carry the ball 5-10 times per game.
Michel could easily ascend the depth and work his way into a heavier carry mix with a strong preseason camp. Former Georgia star A.J. Green, one of the NFL’s top wideouts with the Cincinnati Bengals, is predicting Michel as the league’s top rookie.
“I love Sony — his versatility,” Green said. “Him going to New England, that’s my pick of the Rookie of the Year this year. I’ve seen him play. I know how versatile is. You put him in a situation like New England, running routes out of the backfield and going against linebackers, that’s my pick for Rookie of the Year.”