New England Patriots running back Sony Michel will be striving to live up to his first-round draft pick billing for the rest of his NFL career.
Being a first-round draft pick in the NFL is both a blessing and a curse.
On the one hand, it’s every college player’s dream to have their name get called on Thursday night of the NFL Draft. After all, that’s the ultimate form of validation and respect — you’re well-regarded enough that a professional football team is spending their prized first-round pick on you during primetime television.
On Day 2 (Friday), the second and third rounds of the Draft occur. This is usually where teams find the most value and “bang for their buck” in terms of quality players who might have gone Round 1 if it weren’t for injuries or off-the-field concerns.
By Day 3 (Saturday), it’s usually like throwing darts against the wall and just hoping one of them hits a bullseye. One need look no further than the example of the New England Patriots taking a chance on Tom Brady with the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL Draft (sixth round) to realize just how random and magical those types of picks really are in the later rounds.
It’s much more common to see high-impact players who are drafted in the early rounds find immediate success in the league.
Yes, there are certainly plenty of busts.
But overall, you’re much more likely to find hundreds and hundreds of players drafted in the mid-to-late rounds who never amounted to anything substantial than you are to find first-round draft picks who were bonafide busts in the NFL.
Sony Michel a classic example of too much hype too soon
Sony Michel is an interesting case.
ESPN’s Mike Reiss recently posited that Michel has been hurt by his first-round perception over the past two years (really, just the past year). Reiss claims that had Michel been “selected two picks later — making him a second-rounder instead of a fringe first-rounder — would the perception of his first two seasons be viewed a bit differently? I say yes.”
Indeed, Michel was selected No. 31 overall back in the 2018 NFL Draft by the Patriots. He was just two picks away from going in the second round and on Day 2 of that year’s event.
Honestly, he perhaps should have.
Hindsight is 20/20, but consider the only other running backs who went in the first round that year: Saquon Barkley to the Giants and Rashaad Penny to the Seahawks. Barkley obviously remains a slam dunk two years later and an excellent value even at No. 2 overall, whereas Penny looks like a bust considering Chris Carson’s emergence.
Michel should be considered a solid pick, given the fact he’s rushed for nearly 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons in the league. He also did so last year with an offensive line that was decimated by injuries — not to mention, he also lost his No. 1 and No. 2 fullbacks to IR (James Develin and Jakob Johnson).
And yet, the perception around the NFL is that Michel is already on thin ice after just two seasons — particularly, since his yards per carry average seriously dipped from Year 1 to Year 2.
There’s no denying that Michel’s second season was nowhere near as productive as his first. But let’s be honest and also admit that it wasn’t nearly as bad as many people think it was.
I tend to side with Reiss’ way of thinking, and I have for a while now. If Michel was drafted on Day 2 or Day 3, we wouldn’t even be talking about a “second year slump.”
We’d all be thanking our lucky stars we found such great value on a Friday or Saturday in the draft at running back, and we’d be licking our chops at the idea of Michel behind a stalwart offensive line with a capable fullback in front of him again in 2020.
After all, those are the same ingredients he had in 2018 — and we all know what happened that year, and just how instrumental he was to the Patriots’ success then.
It really is just a matter of perception. Michel was a first-round draft pick, so he’s expected to be the engine of the offense. Hopefully, he will be just that this fall.
If he’s not though, let’s cut him a little slack assuming he puts up anywhere near another 1,000 yards on the ground and six or more touchdowns. The Patriots have enough depth at the position that they don’t need Michel to be their own version of Saquon Barkley — a do-it-all, transcendent talent that the offense lives and dies by.