In case you missed Part 1, I’m in the midst of an extremely long and detailed breakdown of Georgia senior running back prospect Sony Michel.
No, the likelihood that the Titans end up with Michel is not particularly high. So perhaps this is “a lot” for one prospect. But Michel is a special one, so we’re going to dissect him fully rather than use a cherry-picked small sample of plays, and if he ends up with another team, well at least you’ll know about him for your fantasy football league.
We’ll now continue in Part 2 by looking at a handful of other talents he brings to the table.
Burst / Explosiveness and Speed
Depending on the type of back, “burst” can mean different things and have varying levels of importance, but having a lot of it is never a bad thing. Michel combines that explosive through-the-hole burst with breakaway long speed.
In Part 1, we saw that Michel will occasionally be patient with his blocking as the play develops. In the above clip, Michel doesn’t hesitate at all, because he sees the hole opening right away and he bursts through it. He quickly converts his gait from choppy steps in the hole to long sprinter-strides as he angles his way towards the end zone.
Don’t get me wrong - Michel is not “elite” in the burst department. He doesn’t have the ankle-breaking start-stop abilities of a Saquon Barkley, nor the elite speed of a Ronald Jones, but Michel does have a high school track background; his straight-line explosion and burst is palatable and his top gear is plenty fast enough for the NFL. His ability to frequently “turn the corner” is exciting to watch.
Michel outruns every defender to the edge in this counter outside zone hand-off above.
In the next clip, you can actually see the moment where Michel decides to explode upfield; he seems to hit another gear when he reaches the gap and turns up the sideline.
In 2017, Michel had touchdown runs of 74 and 75 yards, and yet there are still some lingering questions about Michel’s long speed. It’s admittedly not elite-level, but Michel offsets what he lacks in long speed with smart running angles in order to finish off home-run carries on long plays like this one below.
As mentioned previously, Michel’s ability to instantly transition from quick and choppy steps to long strides helps him pull away from closing defenders, like in this above clip.
No doubt the blocking on this play is terrific, but Michel’s burst through the hole and then flexibility to avoid the tackler while maintaining his full speed sprint is a truly special ability, allowing Michel to maximize the blocking in front of him. His balance while changing directions is incredible, which brings me to the next trait I want to talk about...
Balance / “Balance through Contact”
Balance is not the same as balance through contact, although they are both related to center of gravity. Michel is one of those backs that has a low center of gravity, but more than that, he has perhaps the most sensational combination of balance and flexibility of any of the talented backs in this draft.
Just look at this next play, an alternate angle of Michel’s 3rd-and-20 conversion from the National Championship game that we looked at in Part 1. This is a truly unbelievable display of balance.
The fact that Michel is able to re-center himself and re-gain his full speed sprint before eventually being run out of bounds is truly astounding. I marvel at each step - there’s such a disconnect between the movement of lower body and the angle of his torso. This “bend” is a special level of athleticism.
“Balance through contact” describes a runner’s ability to absorb hits from would-be tacklers while maintaining balance enough to keep running. This is the idea of “bouncing off” defenders that you often hear expressed about physical running backs.
Michel is a violent runner with the frame to hold up. At 5’10” 215lbs with a low center of gravity, Michel can deliver hits like this and get upfield quickly.
“Pad level” is important for a running back to absorb hits and fall forward. Michel plays with an outstanding pad level, almost always going lower than his opponents and often winning the necessary leverage to run them clear over.
On this play, Michel lines up in the slot, makes the first defender miss, and then obliterates the closing safety right at the goal line. Michel’s balance is so exceptional he barely registers the force of this collision that sends two other players to the ground.
Absorbing these hits in the open field is one thing, but the ability to do so in the backfield is both more difficult and more valuable.
In the next clip, Michel is hit as soon as he receives the hand-off, but he regains his balance quickly enough to stick that left foot in the ground and avoid a second defender in the backfield.
Michel absorbs the hit, plants, gets upfield, makes another guy miss, and ultimately falls forward for a first down.
In my estimation, Michel’s two best traits are his vision and his balance. They are the two areas in which he has elite talent. His balance and agility in the open field was on further display in the “vision” breakdown of Part 1, where he bends and angles back and forth to avoid defenders.
Georgia’s backfield duo of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb received the oft-used moniker “Thunder and Lightning” from fans and media members alike, with Michel meant to be the change-of-pace lightning to Chubb’s powerful thunder.
But lost in this nickname is Michel’s versatility and productiveness as a tough, between-the-tackles runner himself. I’ve shown numerous examples already of him running players over (both above and in Part 1), but Michel is also a guy with the ability to keep his legs churning to move piles.
You saw Michel carry a defensive tackle 6 yards into the end zone in a clip from Part 1. In the above play, he has four guys hanging off of him by the time he reaches the goal line.
In the next clip, he pushes his way through a wall of defenders to score a touchdown.
Michel’s strong-suit is not as a power runner, but he is more than capable of running tough between the tackles. Combine that toughness with his exceptional balance and explosive burst, and Michel could easily carry a three-down workload if asked to do so, although I don’t think that he will ever be a “workhorse back” in the NFL.
Anyway, that’s the end of Part 2...
Come back for Part 3 where we’ll look closely at Michel’s elusiveness, effectiveness as a receiver, and abilities in pass protection...