What are realistic expectations for Sony Michel? He’s super talented, and he’s going to what’s been the league’s dominant team for the last 17 years. The way he ripped off chunks of yards in his final two games last year (against Oklahoma and Alabama) it’s reasonable to wonder if he might have a top-10 season in him.
Kevin Dillon of MassLive.com recently posted a preview piece looking at previous rookie running backs chosen in the first round. Not a particularly compelling article, I thought. It starts with a notable error in the first sentence, forgetting that New England selected Laurence Maroney in the first round in 2006. And how does one write a lengthy Michel preview without mentioning James White, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee or Jeremy Hill?
But there is a notable factoid in there. Dillon notes that Kevin Duffy of the Boston Herald says (so I guess we’re going third-hand here) that in the last 10 years, all but five running backs chosen in the first round have averaged at least 10 touches per game in their first season.
I thought that was kind of interesting, so I re-ran the numbers. (I wanted to make sure they were right, and as long as I had them in front of me, I expanded it back to 2000.) There have been 44 running backs chosen in the first round in this century, and just over a quarter of them (12) have averaged under 10 touches per game.
Typically when I’m looking at “per game” numbers, I look at per start – when the guy was used in a featured way. That’s not what these guys were doing; they’re looking just as games the guy played in. So I followed their lead and went with that format for this one. Of the 44 running backs, 10 averaged over 12 points per game (standard scoring).
Here are the numbers. Guys averaging under 10 touches per game (runs & catches) have a black dot. Guys averaging over 12 points per game are in bold.
|PER-GAME STATS FOR FIRST-ROUND RUNNING BACKS|
|Year||Player||G||Touches||T Yards||TD/G||F Pts|
|2000||Jamal Lewis, Balt.||16||21.0||103.8||.38||12.6|
|2000||Ron Dayne, NYG||16||14.4||48.8||.31||6.8|
|2000||Thomas Jones, Ariz.||14||10.3||41.5||.14||5.0|
|2000||• Shaun Alexander, Sea.||16||4.3||22.1||.13||3.0|
|2000||• Trung Canidate, St.L.||3||1.3||3.3||.00||.3|
|2001||LaDainian Tomlinson, S.D.||16||24.9||100.2||.63||13.8|
|2001||Michael Bennett, Minn.||13||15.5||69.8||.23||8.4|
|2001||• Deuce McAllister, N.O.||16||1.9||16.1||.13||2.4|
|2002||William Green, Clev.||16||16.2||62.5||.38||8.5|
|2002||T.J. Duckett, Atl.||12||11.6||47.3||.33||6.7|
|2003||• Willis McGahee, Buff.||0||--||--||--||--|
|2003||• Larry Johnson, K.C.||6||3.5||14.5||.17||2.5|
|2004||Kevin Jones, Det.||15||17.9||87.5||.40||11.2|
|2004||Steven Jackson, St.L.||14||10.9||61.6||.29||7.9|
|2004||• Chris Perry, Cin.||2||2.5||17.0||.00||1.7|
|2005||Cadillac Williams, T.B.||14||22.1||89.9||.43||11.6|
|2005||Ronnie Brown, Mia.||15||15.9||75.9||.33||9.6|
|2005||• Cedric Benson, Chi.||9||7.6||30.6||.00||3.1|
|2006||Joseph Addai, Ind.||16||16.6||87.9||.50||11.8|
|2006||Reggie Bush, N.O.||16||15.2||81.7||.56||11.5|
|2006||Laurence Maroney, N.E.||14||14.1||67.1||.50||9.7|
|2006||DeAngelo Williams, Car.||13||11.8||62.6||.15||7.2|
|2007||Adrian Peterson, Minn.||14||18.4||114.9||.93||17.1|
|2007||Marshawn Lynch, Buff.||13||22.9||99.9||.54||13.2|
|2008||Chris Johnson, Tenn.||15||19.6||99.2||.67||13.9|
|2008||Jonathan Stewart, Car.||16||12.0||55.2||.63||9.3|
|2008||• Felix Jones, Dall.||6||5.3||46.0||.67||8.6|
|2008||Darren McFadden, Oak.||13||10.9||60.3||.31||7.9|
|2008||• Rashard Mendenhall, Pitt.||4||5.3||18.8||.00||1.9|
|2009||Knowshon Moreno, Den.||16||17.2||72.5||.56||10.6|
|2009||Beanie Wells, Ariz.||16||11.8||58.5||.44||8.5|
|2009||• Donald Brown, Ind.||11||8.1||40.9||.27||5.7|
|2010||Ryan Mathews, S.D.||12||15.0||68.6||.58||10.4|
|2010||Jahvid Best, Det.||16||14.3||64.5||.38||8.7|
|2010||• C.J. Spiller, Buff.||14||7.0||31.4||.07||3.6|
|2011||Mark Ingram, N.O.||10||13.3||52.0||.50||8.2|
|2012||Doug Martin, T.B.||16||23.0||120.4||.75||16.5|
|2012||Trent Richardson, Clev.||15||21.2||87.8||.80||13.6|
|2012||• David Wilson, NYG||16||4.7||24.5||.31||4.3|
|2015||Todd Gurley, St.L.||13||19.2||99.5||.77||14.6|
|2015||Melvin Gordon, S.D.||14||15.5||59.5||.00||6.0|
|2016||Ezekiel Elliott, Dall.||15||23.6||132.9||1.07||19.7|
|2017||Leonard Fournette, Jac.||13||23.4||103.2||.77||14.9|
|2017||Christian McCaffrey, Car.||16||12.3||67.9||.44||9.4|
As for Michel, this article doesn’t change my opinion at all on my expectations. I am confident James White will be New England’s third-down back, in the old Faulk-Woodhead-Vereen role. Probably two other backs will share the bulk of the rest of the duties, and Michel, Jeremy Hill, Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead are the leaders for that kind of work. Burkhead is very versatile, so I’m sure he’ll be in their plans. With Hill and Gillislee, maybe one of those guys can snag the goal-line role, but neither is guaranteed to even be on the roster. Most likely I think we’ll see a three-man mix of Michel, Burkhead and White.
On the photo, by the way, that’s not Jerod Mayo. That’s Michel – more Bill Belichick shenanigans, having him practice in a No. 51 jersey.