The Curious Case of the Game Script RB and Where to Draft Him: A look at Sony Michel

A game script player is a player whose performance relies on the outcome of the game. On one end, think Allen Robinson. In 2015, Robinson produced 1400 yards and 14 touchdowns, but most of the production came while his team was losing by multiple touchdowns, otherwise known as garbage time. On the other end, think 2016 Legarrette Blount. A bruiser back who had his best games when his team won by a large margin, Blount often disappeared when his team trailed and needed to attack the defense through the air. This performance volatility is a big part of fantasy football, but it is often overlooked or ignored. These players with high performance volatility are highly dependent on the flow and outcome of the game. 

Second year Patriots RB, Sony Michel is a game script player.

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Sony Michel was one of the most inconsistent and volatile rushers in all of football last season and, with no passing game involvement to boot, he often let fantasy owners down. A prime example of this volatility is weeks 12-14, last season. Sony Michel followed up a 21/133/1 rushing line with back-to-back performances of 17/63/0 and 20/57/0. There was nothing his owners could do but pound the table, hope one of their other players could pick up the slack, then roll him out the next week again. 

Michel currently sits at an Average Draft Position (ADP) of 44th overall (fantasypros.com) in half-ppr leagues. This makes him a mid fourth round pick and roughly the 20th running back off the board. 

This is too high, folks. Let’s dive into the numbers. 

Seven of twelve games were absolutely brutal for fantasy purposes

Last season, in 12 games played (Not including week 7, Michel got hurt and left the game in the first quarter), Sony Michel had five games of 98 or more rushing yards, and four games of less than 50 rushing yards. In the games in which he ran for at least 98 rushing yards, Michel scored all six of his touchdowns. Michel also totaled a measly seven receptions for 50 yards on the entire season as he was completely uninvolved in the passing game. Seven of twelve games were absolutely brutal for fantasy purposes.

Seven of twelve games were absolutely brutal for fantasy purposes

So what was the reason for the performance volatility? And could we have seen it coming?

In the five games in which Sony Michel ran for 98 or more yards, the Patriots went 5-0 with a total point differential of +74. Michel played roughly 30 snaps a game, 41% of total offensive team snaps, and the Patriots were favored by an average of 9.4 points (oddsshark.com). 

In the seven games in which Sony Michel ran for less than 98 yards, the Patriots went 2-5 with a total point differential of -10. Michel played roughly 24 snaps a game, 36% of total offensive team snaps, and the Patriots were favored in Vegas by an average of 6.7 points. 

In the four games in which Sony Michel ran for 50 or less yards, the Patriots went 1-3 with a total point differential of -16. Michel played roughly 19.5 snaps per game, 33% of total offensive team snaps, and the Patriots were favored in Vegas by an average of 7.4 points per game. 

So what can we conclude?

Sony Michel is on a perennially great team that is going to win a lot of games. Some of these games are going to be double digit victories, and that is when Michel will feast. Some of these games will be nail-biters or losses, and that is where Michel will struggle. 

Michel is also yet to participate in an NFL game in which he was on the field for even half the total offensive snaps, and the snaps decrease in games that are close or in which the Patriots trail. 

If Michel is on your roster, target the games in which the Patriots are heavily favored to confidently place him in your starting lineup, as that is the best time to bank on him. 

On top of the performance volatility, Michel has degenerative knee issues, the Patriots added Damien Harris to the backfield in the third round of the draft, so he is likely to steal a few rushes per game, and James White remains one of the best third down backs in the league. 

 
Ideally, he’s a fringe RB2/flex play that will be useful 8 times this season, if you’re lucky

On the surface, Sony Michel may look like the perfect upside fourth round pick, but a deeper dive shows that Michel should actually be a late sixth-seventh round. Ideally, he’s a fringe RB2/flex play that will be useful 8 times this season, if you’re lucky. 

All in all, Michel is a tough bet to finish within the top 20 RBs this season and is certainly not worth his current ADP. Some running backs that I have ranked higher than Michel at a lower ADP include Kenyan Drake, Chris Carson, David Montgomery, Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram. 

By Michael Petropoulos

Follow Michael on Twitter @Mike_Petrop


Photo Credit: SB Nation