Say what you will about Sony Michel, but the New England Patriots have one of the better backup running backs in the NFL.
Michel was one of the bright spots in an otherwise dismal performance for the Patriots in their 22-12 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday afternoon. Michel ran 10 times for 74 yards before the Patriots were forced to abandon the run and play catchup through the air against Miami. Michel also added one catch for 8 yards.
Michel struggled last year then spent half of this season on injured reserve and the COVID-19 list. All in all, he has 53 carries for 304 yards with a touchdown and four catches for 54 yards. His 5.7 yards per carry and 13.5 yards per reception are career highs.
Michel’s 7.4 yards per carry Sunday was the second highest mark of his career behind his performance Week 3 against the Las Vegas Raiders when he averaged 13 yards per carry.
Sunday’s yards were hard-fought, too. Michel ranked fourth among qualified NFL running backs with 4.4 yards after contact per attempt. He had long runs of 17, 16, 13 and 10 yards.
The yellow line is where Michel first met contact on his 16-yard run.
And here’s where he wound up:
The yellow line is where Michel first met contact his 10-yard run:
He pulled over half of the Dolphins’ defense 7 yards for a first down.
And wound up here:
Finally, the yellow line is where Michel first met contact on his 13-yard run:
And here’s where he powered forward to land:
Michel actually looked about as good as Harris in Sunday’s performance, though that’s not to say he should steal the No. 1 running back job. But if Michel is going to run that hard and effectively, then there should be touches to go around in the Patriots’ backfield to finish out the season.
The Patriots’ running back corps could look a little different next season. Harris and Michel (who likely won’t have his fifth-year option in 2022 picked up) will return, and J.J. Taylor will be entering his second season. Brandon Bolden can return after opting out for the 2020 season. Rex Burkhead, who’s coming off of a knee injury, and third-down back James White will be unrestricted free agents.
White dealt with a family tragedy when his father died in a car accident, so a dip in performance is excused. White has let up a career-high nine pressures as a pass-blocker, however, and he’s having his least productive season since his rookie year. White, who’s playing with a new quarterback this season and missed time in September to be with his family, has been one of the best third-down backs in the NFL since emerging in 2015. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots handle extension talks for the offensive captain this offseason given the circumstances. Burkhead likely would have to return on close to a veteran minimum salary as he returns from an injury.
Harris and Michel are similar players but serve as a foundation in the Patriots’ backfield and could be deployed as a solid 1-2 punch next season.
In an ideal world, one of the two players would emerge as more of a pass-catching threat to better complement one another. If White is not retained then Burkhead or Taylor could potentially take on bigger pass-catching roles.
Michel got mostly forgotten this season as Harris emerged. But Sunday’s loss showed Michel still has something left in the tank as the Patriots begin to plan for their future after missing the playoffs this season.