The Fantasy Football Implications of the Sony Michel Trade

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The Los Angeles Rams acquired Sony Michel from the New England Patriots on August 25th via a trade that would have the Rams sending a 2022 6th round pick and a 2023 4th round pick to the Patriots. The original trade was a conditional 2022 5th round pick that would convert into a 4th round pick if the Rams received a 4th round compensatory pick for the 2022 NFL Draft. Due to this being an “illegal trade,” the NFL stepped in, causing the conditional pick to turn into a 2023 4th rounder. This article will look at Michel’s career numbers, the outlook for the Rams backfield with this acquisition, and of course, the fantasy implications.

Sony Michel‘s Career Numbers

Sony Michel was drafted 31st overall by the Patriots in the 2018 NFL Draft. Considering the draft capital, his career with the Patriots has been somewhat underwhelming, primarily due to injuries. The highlight of Michel’s career would undoubtedly be the 2018 Super Bowl run where he had 336 yards and 6 touchdowns in 3 games, including the only touchdown scored in the Super Bowl, against his new team, the Rams. See the chart below that shows all of his statistics for his first three seasons in the league.

Year Games Attempts (Rank) Yards (Rank) YPC TDs Fantasy Finish
2018 13 209 (14th) 931 (15th) 4.45 6 28th
2019 16 247 (10th) 912 (17th) 3.69 7 28th
2020 9 79 (68th) 449 (47th) 5.68 1 59th

As stated before, Michel hasn’t produced much for fantasy purposes. The chart above shows his fantasy finishes in half-point PPR scoring. Despite finishing with the 14th most attempts in 2018 and 10th in 2019, Michel could only produce an RB28 overall season in both years. He has not finished as a high-end running back in fantasy because the Patriots did not utilize him in the passing game. Through 3 years combined, Michel only had 26 receptions for 258 yards and 1 touchdown. James White played the role of receiving back, so Michel rarely saw opportunities there.

The Injuries

Sony Michel‘s extensive injury history dates back to high school when he tore his ACL during his sophomore year. In 2018, Michel injured his left knee in the SEC championship game, but that didn’t keep Michel from playing his final 2 college games, including the national championship game, against Alabama. Michel would later have the same left knee that he injured in college drained of fluid before the 2018 NFL season, causing him to miss the season opener. The left knee would come back to be an issue later that year, causing Michel to miss weeks 8 and 9.

Sony Michel played all 16 games in 2019 but struggled with a couple of injuries in 2020. In May of 2020, Michel had surgery to relieve the discomfort that he had in his foot. This particular injury didn’t cause him to miss any games, but a quadriceps injury would cause him to miss 8 games of the 2020 season.

The Coach Speak

After Cam Akers tore his Achilles, it was inevitable that the Rams would make some kind of move to add depth to their team. Darrell Henderson has shown flashes of talent; however, it was unlikely that the Rams would be comfortable with him as a bell cow going into the 2021 season. Head Coach Sean McVay stated that his concern wasn’t about Henderson’s talent but had doubts about his durability. Andrew Siciliano of NFL Network reported on 08/26 that Sean McVay has expressed Darrell Henderson is “still going to have a very big role” after adding Michel.

In an article on Ramswire.com, Sean McVay gave his thoughts of Sony Michel and what he brings to the Rams backfield. Both McVay and General Manager Les Snead have talked about how Michel will bring experience since he has played in big games before, as the Rams know because they watched him score the only touchdown in their Super Bowl loss to the Patriots. One key line from the quote is that he said Michel’s role is yet to be determined. Check out the full quote below from McVay.

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“Experience, playing in the big-time games,” McVay said of what Michel brings. “I think he’s a nice complement to what we already have in terms of when you look at the confidence that we have in Darrell Henderson and what he’s been able to do when he’s been available for us. Then, as I said, I’ve been really pleased with what Jake Funk‘s done over the last really couple of weeks. Really showing great maturity for a rookie player, did some really good things out here today. So, I think Sony definitely helps solidify just the foundation of that room, but what his role is, is to be determined. He’s got a track record that kind of and a resume that speaks for itself.”

Getty Images / Thearon W. Henderson

The Data

Some analysts believe that Sony Michel is washed and that he won’t impact Henderson too much. However, Michel looked good in the last 3 weeks of the season in 2020, rushing for 219 yards and averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Michel also has the edge when it comes to some advanced metrics. I created a chart with data from PlayerProfiler.com to show how Michel and Henderson both ranked in specific metrics. Keep in mind that Henderson had 138 rushing attempts to Michel’s 79 attempts. This data isn’t meant to say that Michel is necessarily better, but rather that he may not be as washed up as most think he is.

Player True YPC Yards Per Touch Breakaway Runs Breakaway Run Rate Juke Rate
Sony Michel #2 #1 #23 (T) #2 #15
Darrell Henderson #29 #24 #23 (T) #24 #49

As you can see, Michel has a clear advantage in these metrics. I might add that Michel ranked 4th in Stacked Front Carry Rate and Henderson ranked 21st. So, not only did Michel have the same amount of breakaway runs as Henderson (6), but he did it with more defenders in the box on average and on fewer carries.

The Rams Outlook

With Sean McVay stating that he has concerns about Henderson’s durability, I think this will be a committee approach with Henderson leading the way. Although McVay said Michel’s role is yet to be determined, I would expect him to get decent volume in this offense.

Predicting how each running back will be utilized in this offense may be difficult. Both Michel and Henderson are capable pass catchers that haven’t truly been used in that role before. The Rams were 30th in 2020 in targets to the running back position, but that was with Jared Goff. It will be interesting to see how Matthew Stafford might change that up and start targeting running backs more as he has in his time with Detroit.

As far as the RedZone work goes, this may slightly favor Sony Michel if you think about the bigger body, which is typical for a goal-line running back (Michel is 5’11” 215lbs and Henderson is 5’8″ 200lbs). Despite the smaller body, Henderson had four of his five touchdowns come within the 5-yard line. Henderson also led the Rams backfield in team rushing percentage within the 5-yard line in 2020. I could see a very similar situation for the Rams this season where goal-line rushes can be evenly distributed. Michel had 41.4% of the Patriots rushes within the 5 in 2018 and 46.2% in 2019.

Fantasy Outlook

With the Rams just acquiring Michel recently, we won’t have accurate ADP numbers to go off of; however, from what I have gathered from the fantasy football community on Twitter, most expect Henderson to be the running back to roster on your fantasy team. While Henderson will be productive in this offense and be a good fantasy asset, I don’t think I will be willing to draft him where he is likely going.

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Last season, Henderson had 35.9% (138) of the team’s rushing attempts and finished as the RB36. Henderson played in 15 games last season; his 138 attempts were 32nd in the NFL and would average 9.2 rushing attempts per game. My concern is that with McVay’s doubts about Henderson’s durability, he won’t see much more than 9.2 attempts in a game very often.

If we are solely talking about rushing attempts, 12 rushing attempts per game would have been 18th in the NFL. Hypothetically, if Henderson had 180 attempts in 2020 and we use last season’s stats to predict his fantasy outcome, he would have been the RB26. I got to RB26 by using fantasy points per rush (.67) and multiplying that by 180, which would give him 120.6 fantasy points. If we combine that with the 29.9 points he had in the receiving game, we get 150.5 points, which would be the RB26. Henderson reached 12 rushing attempts 1 time in the final 8 games of the 2020 season.

This hypothetical situation isn’t saying that Henderson can’t finish higher than RB26. It’s more of a caution. In my opinion, Sony Michel is better than Malcolm Brown, and Brown got 101 carries last season. I would expect Michel to get much more work than that. Darrell Henderson is a talented back, but his range of outcomes includes the possibility that Sony Michel outperforms him in fantasy production in the 2021 season. Although outperforming Henderson may be unlikely, it’s possible Michel at least gets enough volume, making it hard for Henderson to perform well enough to justify where he will be drafted.

Conclusion

If Sony Michel‘s ADP stays low, he could end up being an incredible value in drafts if he can stay healthy and carve out a role on this high-powered Rams offense. Both Henderson and Michel can be fantasy-relevant; there will be a risk, though, if you are drafting them high and needing to rely on them. You just have to weigh the risk and reward and choose what you would like to do when you are on the clock in your drafts.

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