Sony Michel: RB2 for your team in 2021? Earlier this week, the New England Patriots made a major splash on the transaction wire: they signed Kahale Waring. Also, they traded running back Sony Michel to the Los Angeles Rams in return for some late-round draft picks. This is significant because it complicates the backfield situation for the Rams, a team that had given the green light to the short-and-stout Darrell Henderson following the year-ending injury to Cam Akers.
Because Henderson had almost no competition for the lead back status on the Rams, he was a favorite RB2 for many drafters, including myself. In fact, I took Darrell Henderson in one of my most important industry drafts, taking him in the fourth round to pair with Derrick Henry. But nobody should be really surprised that the Rams pursued another running back because Henderson’s backups were rookies Xavier Jones and Jake Funk (who themselves became popular late-round picks). Now that Sony Michel is in the Rams backfield, should we be focusing on drafting Sony Michel in our 2021 Underdog best ball drafts?
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It’s a brand new team in many ways. The Rams swapped QBs with the Detroit Lions, sending Jared Goff north and bringing Matt Stafford south. Early this pre-season, the Rams suffered a massive loss when second-year back Cam Akers suffered a torn ACL. Akers had been slated by many rankers to be a second or third-round draft value for fantasy teams. Fortunately for the Rams, they had a capable backup in the mold of Darrell Henderson. The problem is, Darrell Henderson is 5’8″, making him one of the shortest running backs in the NFL. The only shorter RB in the league getting a similar workload would be Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Plus, Henderson already suffered a hand injury in training camp. So, the Rams went out and acquired veteran running back Sony Michel to support the running game.
Sony Michel has been around the league for one year longer than Darrell Henderson, and their profiles are somewhat overlapping, which is worrying for fantasy managers. Michel is almost an entirely ground-based runner who has amassed a mere 26 receptions in his entire career; that’s less than one catch per game. Henderson — who filled in for Akers during injuries last year — similarly had about one catch per game while grinding for 4.5 yards per attempt on the ground. So at first glance, we can see that Michael and Henderson will likely be taking snaps away from each other. Unlike a Jonathan Taylor / Nyheim Hines combo — where the former is the ground guy and the latter is the receiver — a Henderson / Michel combo means that you’ll need to gamble on which back takes the lead role more often. This will likely limit each of their upsides for best ball drafts, making them more floor options than anything.
According to the Team Rise or Fall Study Hub, Sony Michel finished in the same RB range as Christian McCaffrey in 2020! Of course, McCaffrey played only 3 games. Yet, McCaffrey’s 3 games were still able to out-produce Michel’s 9 games, which doesn’t bode well for Michel’s 2021. Michel had a nice 5.6 yards per rush in 2020, but his stats on the 2020 Patriots are tough to project into 2021. The 2020 Patriots had the emergence of Damien Harris, who took over most of the roles that Michel previously occupied. Additionally, the 2020 Patriots were helmed by Cam Newton, who had a strange aversion to throwing the ball and somewhat acted as yet another rusher. So Michel’s tenure with the Patriots was largely composed of non-normalized usages that aren’t easy to project into the future. That’s a good advantage for savvy Underdog best ball drafters.
The Team Rise or Fall Underdog Projections envisions Sony Michel down in the RB50 range at the time of writing. Many pundits feel that Michel will slot into a goal-line role in Los Angeles, which will make him incredibly stochastic in best ball formats. In 2018 and 2019, Michel managed 13 combined touchdowns in 29 games, often playing alongside other goal line backs or possession backs like Rex Burkhead or James White. So Michel was pretty efficient with his usage, even if it wasn’t much. He could similarly have a low-to-mid snap role while still racking up TDs.
But that efficiency makes Sony Michel an extreme value at his current ADP in Underdog drafts, which is basically undrafted. If you’re drafting soon, you could be using those late picks on a running back like Michel who could snag 6 TDs and rack up 500 or more yards. If we get to next week and Michel makes a good showing in the preseason, his draft value will get more helium than a 6-year old’s birthday balloon. Henderson will likely still be the lead back for the Rams, but Michel’s ADP could surge far beyond his projected value. So the best time to draft Michel (other than last week) is right now. If he fails, then he’s no worse than any other last round pick. But if he takes off, his helium could pull him into the 130-150 range, which might actually make him too expensive to draft.
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