20 Under 25 candidates: Sony Michel leading Patriots ground game


You can argue the merits of taking a running back in the first round. But you can't argue the fact that when Sony Michel has been healthy, and when the Patriots running game has been humming, that has helped open up their passing game. 

The Patriots have simply been a better offense this season when Michel has been right. 

On 164 attempts, the rookie out of Georgia is averaging a robust 4.3 yards per carry, and he's picked up more than 50 percent of his yards (400 of 706) after contact. During a three-game stretch when the Patriots were sniffing 40 points or exceeding that total, Michel ran for 112, 98 and 106 yards. 

Michel still has plenty of room to grow -- particularly as a receiver and in short-yardage situations -- in order to reach his ceiling as a true every-down back, but he's already a valuable component to the Patriots offense. 

This year more than any other, a consistent running game has been key to Josh McDaniels' attack for a variety of reasons: It can help protect the 41-year-old quarterback; it can establish a psychological tone on a weekly basis; it makes the offense less predictable; it creates space in the play-action passing game for receiving options who don't separate on their own the way they used to.

Without Michel -- who has missed three games with a knee injury -- the odds on the Patriots being able to accomplish any of those things don't necessarily evaporate. But they're certainly diminished. 


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