At least one high-profile NFL talking head believes Sony Michel can avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.
The New England Patriots running back came into his own during his first season in Foxboro, putting up some eye-popping numbers late in the season after powering through nagging knee issues. Michel logged more than 900 yards in just 13 regular-season games before averaging more than 100 yards per game in the Patriots’ three postseason games en route to winning Super Bowl LIII.
So, what can he do for an encore? Well, NFL Media’s Rich Eisen believes Michel might rewrite the Patriots’ record book, challenging Corey Dillon’s single-season team record for rushing yards.
“I think, that said, Sony Michel is going to have a monster season for the Patriots. As in threaten-the-single-season-team rushing-record monster season,” Eisen wrote filling in for Peter King on NBC Sports’ Football Morning in America column. “Lost amongst another historic performance by Tom Brady, Michel?s playoff numbers were through the roof — 336 rushing yards and seven total touchdowns in three games. With Gronk swearing he?s not coming back, I?m thinking New England will lean on Michel, who had 931 rushing yards in 13 games (but just eight starts) last year. The Patriots team record for most rushing yards in a season isn?t held by Curtis Martin, by the way. It?s Corey Dillon who ran for 1,645 yards on 345 carries in New England?s Super Bowl season of 2004. Keep this in mind. Just sayin’.”
Let’s unpack that a little more. Dillon set that single-season mark in his 2004, his first year with the Patriots. Dillon set the record on 345 carries, a workload that, quite frankly, would be absurd in today’s NFL. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL in rushing attempts last season with 304, which was 43 carries more than the second-closest running back. In fact, an NFL running back hasn’t rushed 345 times since 2014 when DeMarco Murray carried it 392 times — and wasn’t the same back after that. Even if the Patriots’ quarterback room goes all Oregon Trail and comes down with dysentery, it still seems borderline impossible for New England to hand it to Michel 345 times.
Even if Michel gets in the neighborhood of 300 carries, it’s still going to be very, very hard to break that record. He’d need to average roughly 5.5 yards in order to break the record. That’s not impossible, but it’s also not likely. Only one back — Green Bay’s Aaron Jones — averaged that many yards per carry in 2018, and he did so on just 133 attempts.
It’s also worth noting the Patriots’ backfield is no less crowded this season than it was a year ago, a fact that contributed to Michel’s light workload. Michel obviously earned the bulk of the carries down the stretch and into the playoffs, especially as the weather got worse, but it’s borderline impossible to pinpoint what the Patriots’ offense will do. James White still will get plenty of snaps on passing downs, and the Patriots did also draft Damien Harris out of Alabama in the third round. If Michel is dinged up at all — as he was during minicamp — Harris (who is similar to Michel in size and style) will get his chance to shine.
All things considered, it seems highly unlikely Michel will challenge Dillon’s record in 2019, but it’s hard to argue he’s not poised to build on a wildly successful rookie season.