Sony Michel’s history when it comes to fantasy football has been a rocky one, to say the least. When he was drafted 31st overall in the 2018 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots, fantasy managers immediately saw him as the next stud in waiting for fantasy. Since then he has either been hurt or posting generally disappointing stat lines. This had led managers generally choosing to pass on Michel for other, more consistent, running backs in 2020. However, following an offseason of change in New England, could Sony Michel be in line to be a fantasy starter in 2020?
Sony Michel’s fantasy history
As always, before we look ahead we first must look back. Michel played in 13 games during his rookie season, helping the Patriots win their sixth Super Bowl title. However, he was streaky and problematic for fantasy managers. Unfortunately, 2019 was not much different.
Although Michel played in every game last season, his stats weren’t all that stellar. He ran 247 times for only 912 yards (3.7 ypc) and seven touchdowns while adding 12 catches on 20 targets for a meager 94 yards. This led to Michel scoring 140.6 PPR fantasy points, which ranked 24th among running backs for the year. It is reasonably well known how much Bill Belichick likes to spread the ball around when it comes to his backs, and it just didn’t feel like they were spreading it Michel’s way all that much.
However, Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM) paints a different story as to how Michel’s season stacked up. For the entire 2019 season, Michel came in at 18.24, RB9 overall. This means that he was top 10 in terms of actually helping his offense move the ball on the field. By design, OSM only measures a running backs performance on run plays, making it somewhat limited when dealing with hybrid backs. However, as Michel wasn’t really used in the passing game, his OSM number is reasonably accurate as to his performance. On the field Michel was doing everything right, the offense just wasn’t looking at him enough.
While his true football performance was terrific, Sony Michel’s fantasy output was not. Using PFN’s Consistency Score (CS) we see just how frustrating Michel was for fantasy managers. Michel CS was a meager 3.24, placing him at RB33 in terms of consistent fantasy output. All this proves is that while Michel was great on the field doing what he was being asked to do, the volume and opportunity just weren’t there for him to produce as a reliable fantasy starter last season.
Patriots roster changes for 2020
During the offseason, the biggest change to the Patriots came with the exit of perennial stud QB Tom Brady who left for the Buccaneers. It’s possible that this change will force the running backs to be relied upon more to carry the team, or that the offense will be more focused and only utilize one or two backs instead of the seven that scored fantasy points last season. If either of those potential outcomes was to be the case, then that would help Michel’s fantasy output in 2020.
One of those seven Patriots running backs that scored fantasy points last season was 2019 3rd round draft pick, Damien Harris. Harris was getting talked about a lot heading into the 2019 season, but only ended up seeing the field in two games, getting four carries for 12 yards. In the end, he was barely a part of the team at all. Therefore, if Harris does take a step forward in 2020, then he could end up competing with Michel for more of the RB touches this season.
Finally, the biggest addition to the team was the signing of free-agent QB Cam Newton. Newton was drafted with the first overall pick by the Carolina Panthers in the 2011 NFL Draft and had played the last nine seasons with them. After injuries kept him on the sidelines last year, the team ended up releasing him, and eventually, he signed with the Patriots to replace Brady.
Adding a QB that can use his legs more effectively than Brady could demonstrate that the Patriots are potentially looking to move the ball on the ground more, and therefore, trying to find a way to open up the offense in different ways than before. If that is the case, it could mean more scoring opportunities for the running backs, Michel included.
Sony Michel’s fantasy outlook for 2020
All in all, Michel is definitely in line for the lead share of carries out of the backfield this season. Just how many carries that is and what he’ll do with them is obviously up in the air, but it’s hard to look at the Patriots depth chart and see anyone surpassing him for the bulk of the carries just yet. When the team cut veteran RB Lamar Miller at the roster cut-down deadline, that further indicated that they are comfortable with Michel as their guy.
James White will get the majority of the passing work, and I would still expect to see Rex Burkhead get some third-down work. However, the rushing downs should be a split between Michel and Harris, with Michel likely seeing 70% of those touches, if not more. This should make Michel a worthy option for fantasy flex spots at a minimum.
Currently, White is going first among the four with an ADP on FleaFlicker of 79 overall (RB30), which makes sense given his clearcut role on the team. Michel is next at 117 overall (RB42) and Harris is third at 180 overall (RB56). Burkhead is going undrafted. Given Michel’s current value at RB42, most fantasy managers are passing him by for other talents such as, up and down RB Marlon Mack, rookie RB Zack Moss, and both Dolphins’ RBs in Matt Breida and Jordan Howard.
I totally understand the logic of taking those other backs ahead of Michel, but given his competition for carries (or lack thereof) combined with the offense’s high potential for scoring with Newton under center, it’s entirely possible that RB42 is Michel’s floor for the year. Next Gen Stats indicate that he performs effectively on the field, and as long as he stays healthy and gets the bulk of the carries he could easily outperform his current ADP.
For me, Sony Michel is definitely a fantasy starter and a terrific bench option that you don’t have to reach for in your draft. If he busts, then you have not have risked much to get him. However, if he breaks out, you’ll be laughing all the way to your championship.
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Andrew Hall is a writer for PFN covering the NFL and Fantasy Football. You can follow him on Twitter: @AndrewHallFF.