Georgia running back Sony Michel was an unexpected first-round pick for the New England Patriots for one simple reason: He fumbled a lot in college.
And the Patriots usually don’t stand for that. Just ask Stevan Ridley.
Michel fumbled 12 times in 658 college touches, or once every 54.8 touches. His fumble rate dropped as a senior, however, when he fumbled once every 82.5 touches.
Michel’s college career fumble rate was significantly higher than recent Patriots drafted running backs James White (every 377 touches), Stevan Ridley (every 107.7 touches), Laurence Maroney (every 101.4 touches) and Shane Vereen (every 93.4 touches).
The Patriots took him 31st overall anyway.
Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears was asked Friday how to clearly express the importance of ball security to Michel.
“Let him sit on the bench a little while,” Fears said. “He’s gotta figure out that’s the most important thing he does. He’s gotta figure that out, and he’s gotta get that message. And I don’t care how you do it, he’s gotta get that message. And when he gets that message, he’s going to play, he’s going to hold onto that ball. If he can’t hold onto that ball, then he can’t play for us. We can’t have that.”
Fears otherwise seems extremely high on Michel’s prospects in the Patriots’ system.
“He’s a very physical guy for a guy who’s really good in the open field,” Fears said. “Most of those guys are scat-back guys. He’s very productive in the open field. And he’s also very productive inside, because he’s got some stout to him. He’s not a little guy. He’s broad shouldered and what, about 215 (pounds), somewhere in that neighborhood? He’s a size player that can pound it away and also make some things happen in the open space. It doesn’t surprise me that he made some plays for (Georgia) — a lot of plays for them.”
Fears also liked what he saw out of Michel as a pass protector. Michel let up just two hurries on 48 pass-block snaps in 2017.
“Fortunately for us, he was very successful in that area,” Fears said. “He did a great job for them. He’s a physical guy, and he’s a tough guy. So, we just gotta teach him who to block. When we get him on the right guy, I think he’ll do a good job blocking. I really do. I expect he’ll do a good job blocking.”
Clearly, the Patriots believe they can fix Michel’s fumbling issues at the NFL level. And if they can’t? Michel will meet the same fate as backs before him who coughed up the ball: the bench.
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