By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Sony Michel could spend his entire Patriots career having to answer for the value that Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio placed on him in the draft, fair or not. They made him the 31st overall pick in the 2018 class, which wasn't too much of a reach by the standards of where he ranked among prognosticators and mock-drafters. But based on how Belichick has addressed the position for most of his tenure as Patriots head coach, it was a major departure.
So Michel better be a marked upgrade over the departed Dion Lewis, whom the Patriots originally signed to a future/reserve contract in 2014. Some may require a Super Bowl MVP award for Michel to deliver on his draft slot. Others may not care if he's literally the next Barry Sanders. Whether or not he deserves it, Michel will always be attached to the draft capital that Belichick spent to acquire him.
Michel's game-breaking ability could immediately make him the Patriots' preferred headliner in their crowded (for now) stable of backs. But beyond that, he didn't enter the draft without injury concerns. It's common for a running back, historically a position with among the shortest shelf lives in the league. But it's also part of the Patriots' calculated risk, one that Caserio says they were secure about before drafting Michel.
"Yeah, we take a lot of information," he told reporters after night 1 of the 2018 draft on Thursday night. "There's a lot of information that we sort through so in the end whatever you have with the player you take everything that comes along with it. So you're either comfortable or you're not comfortable with a player's situation. So you take a lot of that information in. So in the end we felt we were comfortable with the player so we went ahead and made the pick."
The biggest "concern" with Michel comes, ostensibly, from speculation based on nothing publicly known. Not that medical records are typically reported. But for the most crucial injury unease for Michel, we're essentially going by the word of former Patriots exec Mike Lombardi, who sparked concerns of a "bone-on-bone" condition in Michel's left knee in a recent pre-draft podcast for The Ringer. Lombardi noted that those apparent issues could affect his draft stock.
As it turns out, Michel stayed in the first round. And considering that the Patriots typically have a smaller draft board than most teams, the 31st overall pick is essentially a second-rounder with first-round control. Either way, Belichick and Caserio probably got the same information as Lombardi and felt OK enough with what they've heard.
Despite the mystery of his knee condition, Michel has several more tangible injuries to consider. The worries over his left knee go back to his sophomore season at American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla. in 2011, when he tore his ACL. He injured his left knee again in 2017 during the SEC title game against Auburn.
In between, he sprained his ankle and missed four games with a mysterious shoulder injury in 2014, re-injured the same shoulder during camp in 2015, played with a slight fracture in his hand that same season, broke his forearm in an ATV accident over Fourth of July weekend in 2016, and sprained his ankle again in 2017.
By the way, he rushed 24 times for 165 yards and a touchdown against Kentucky in the week after cracking his hand. And he returned from his knee injury in the 2017 SEC Title Game to absolutely tee off on the Oklahoma Sooners in the Bulldogs' 54-48 win in the Rose Bowl, totaling 222 yards with four touchdowns (three rushing, one receiving) on just 15 touches. The National Championship game against Alabama? Fourteen carries, 98 yards.
So based on those games, Michel's knee might be doing OK. He certainly had zero concerns when asked about it in his introductory conference call with the New England media.
"I'm healthy," Michel bluntly put it. Asked a follow-up to clarify the condition of his knee, he added: "I’m not sure what’s out there, but I’ve been playing with no problems. I don’t have any injuries. I’m not sure what you guys are hearing."
The questions, however, aren't unfair when it comes to Michel's knee. He may enter camp with the Patriots at full health, but even if it's not a "bone-on-bone" situation, it's a knee with a history. And while there's no doubting Michel's toughness, he'll have a little something to prove about his durability.
It's not a situation that's wholly unique to Michel. It's the reality of the running back position, especially when the player in question is as involved physically as he can be. He's not just a high-end prospect for what he does on the ground; he's also an asset in the passing game with his blocking and occasional receiving. So the Patriots are hoping that Michel doesn't break as often as he did in his college career.
If Michel can stay in one piece, he has a chance to emerge right away as one of the league's great rookie backs. Bengals receiver and fellow ex-Bulldog A.J. Green believes Michel will be rookie of the year. He could certainly be in worse team situations to earn that honor.
And his team surely doesn't sound worried about the knee.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].