There weren't many New England Patriots fans that were happy with their team selecting Sony Michel in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Not only was Michel not deemed a first-round pick that year, but since when do the Patriots draft a running back on Day 1? There were many questions surrounding that draft pick, especially since New England typically opts out of making that type of selection by trading down in the draft.
But Michel had a chance to prove New England right. And he did his rookie season.
Behind one of the best offensive line's in the NFL Michel gathered 931 yards and six touchdowns on 209 carries (4.5 yards per carry) during the regular season, and another 336 yards and six touchdowns during the team's Super Bowl run that postseason. Michel's production that year came after missing the preseason and first three games of the regular season due to a lingering knee issue from college that required minor surgery in August of 2018. It was a great start for a rookie that was put under scrutiny the second he was drafted.
Then 2019 happened.
Michel began the season on the active/physically unable to perform list following a minor knee procedure during the offseason. And with a banged-up offensive line to run behind, Michel's production took a hit in Year 2. Carrying the rock 38 times more than he did in his rookie season, Michel managed to get just 912 yards and seven scores on the ground, averaging 3.7 yards per carry.
Fast forward to August of 2020, and Michel is beginning training camp on the active/PUP once again. However, this time around his return doesn't look like it's coming soon. We know this because of who the Patriots signed on Aug. 10.
New England signed veteran running back Lamar Miller to a one-year deal. Given that Brandon Bolden opted out of the season, it makes sense that New England may want to throw another hat into the backfield battle this summer. But given the talent and experience of Miller, he will be competing for more than just a special teams role like Bolden had.
That's why 2020 is a make-or-break year for Sony Michel.
If Michel can't perform well this upcoming season, then he will quickly find himself buried on the depth chart and likely out the door next offseason. His contract is set to expire after the 2021 season, but cutting him next offseason would mean the Patriots would save $1.2 million and have $1.8 million in dead money. Sitting on that kind of dead money wouldn't be a problem for a team that is projected to be swimming in cap space next year.
With Lamar Miller added to a backfield that already has James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris and J.J. Taylor, if he picks up the Patriots' way of things quickly Miller could easily be a lead back for New England. It's possible that that happens sooner than later given that Michel is currently sidelined and Week 1 of the regular season is a little over a month away. If Miller takes the lead role, then that could also mean someone like Harris is living his final days in a Patriots uniform this summer after being a third-round pick in 2019.
Sony Michel's presence on the roster in 2018 helped New England win their sixth championship in franchise history. But in NFL years, that's a long time ago. Now Michel is not only fighting for his job, but fighting for a spot on the Patriots' roster past 2020.
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