The New England Patriots had a relatively rough season in 2019, and that’s especially true for running back Sony Michel. After a promising rookie season, the former first-round pick averaged just 3.7 yards-per-attempt and looked completely unexplosive for parts of the season. While Michel might never live up to his draft pedigree, he should improve in the upcoming season.
How Sony Michel Can Improve in 2020
Sony Michel, like most running backs, is only as good as the blocking in front of him. Last year, that blocking was subpar for the vast majority of the season. Star center David Andrews missed the season with blood clots, left tackle Isaiah Wynn missed half the season with a foot injury, and the team cycled through fullbacks like there was no tomorrow. This ultimately left Michel with a below-average offensive line that simply couldn’t open holes like they did in 2018.
This situation should improve heading into 2020. Andrews is back in the lineup, and is one of the best run-blocking centers in all of football. If he can return to his old form (or anything close to it), he should represent a decent upgrade on Ted Karras. Additionally, the team has a plethora of options at fullback.
James Develin may be retired, but the team still has Jakob Johnson, who looked serviceable during his short time on the field. On top of that, New England added Danny Vitale in free agency and Dalton Keene in the NFL Draft. Vitale has a history of solid play throughout the league, while Keene has collegiate experience at the fullback position.
Sony Michel is essentially the Andy Dalton of running backs, in that he’s exactly as good as his situation. According to this chart, Michel was one of the least explosive runners in the league when it came to creating yards over expectation. However, the flat slope of his curve shows that he rarely picked up less than the blocking provided. He’s a league-average running back that can thrive in the right situation, and the Patriots have provided that situation.
Promising Signs In 2019
Sony Michel’s 2019 was largely underwhelming, but he showed some signs of life down the stretch. Starting in Week 11 against the Dallas Cowboys, Michel averaged over four yards-per-carry in six of the next seven games, including the postseason. This perfectly correlates to when Isaiah Wynn returned to the lineup and sent backup offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse to the bench.
This is also around the time the Patriots started using linebacker Elandon Roberts as a fullback. The linebacker played surprisingly well and was exactly what the running game needed. This didn’t correlate to wins, as the pass game continued to get worse as the season progressed. However, it is a sign that Michel can bounce back and put together a solid season in 2020.
With Tom Brady out of the picture, the Patriots seem intent on winning with a run-oriented ball control offense. Only time will tell if that strategy works, but Sony Michel won’t be the reason it fails.
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