Brad Penner/USA Today Sports

What if Patriots didn’t draft Sony Michel?

November 28, 2018 - 10:27 pm

By Evan Marinofsky

At the time, it was a surprising pick. The New England Patriots selecting Sony Michel, a running back, in the first round didn’t seem like a Bill Belichick move. Many assumed it was that of likely heir to Belichick’s throne Josh McDaniels.

The move has paid off thus far, which is a plus-1 for McDaniels. Michel has lent a large helping hand in four of the eight Patriots wins this season, most notably when he ran for a season-high 133 yards last Sunday against the New York Jets and scored two touchdowns in Week 6’s shootout against the Kansas City Chiefs.

With him back and healthy off a knee injury, those surely won’t be the last games Michel packs a punch.

And no, I’m not a stat-humper.

But what if the Patriots didn’t challenge their own norms and draft the Georgia product? It’s entirely possible the 31st pick in the 2018 NFL Draft could’ve went in a different direction. The Patriots had bigger needs and at the running back position, one could argue there were better options.

As a basis for this hypothetical, if the 2018 Patriots didn’t have Michel, James White would have less receptions because he’d be forced to run the ball more. The loss of Rex Burkhead at running back would mean a whole lot more and there’s a chance the Patriots would’ve traded for a running back with the departure of Dion Lewis.

Put generally, the Patriots wouldn’t be as good this year. Michel is showing every sign of being a star running back in this league, as he’s elite at gaining yards after contact and waiting for the offensive line to create a hole for him to run through.

Now for the fun part. 

At the time, the biggest projection from draft experts was that with the trading of Jimmy Garoppolo and the aging of Tom Brady (40 at the time), the Patriots would need to draft Brady’s successor…again.

The quarterback most heavily rumored and projected to be drafted by the Patriots was Louisville standout Lamar Jackson. Before the draft, McDaniels journeyed down to South Florida to work out the former Heisman winner. Two weeks later saw Jackson pay Gillette Stadium an official visit. Jackson was star struck by the visit and even made the commander in chief of the Patriots laugh.

Match made in Heaven, right?

If Jackson were to have been drafted by the Pats, there would be a lot more pressure on Brady. At 41, with Garoppolo gone and Jackson in the shadows, Brady would have to continue his dominance that he ended on last season (or at least come close to it). There would most definitely have been calls after subpar performances in Weeks 2 and 3 to bench the old guy in favor of the rookie.

Hell, Ordway, Merloni & Fauria would’ve had their shows planned out for the entire season. Can’t you see Merloni asking Belichick if Jackson would replace Brady as the starter? Probably can’t see Ordway doing so.

But Jackson being drafted could’ve had the opposite effect. When Jimmy G was in town, Brady was at his best; the drafting of Garoppolo appeared to revitalize Brady’s career. Brady could’ve looked at Jackson’s drafting as another attempt by “nemesis” Belichick to replace him and plan for the future.

The other quarterback that the Patriots were rumored to be in on was Baker Mayfield. Unlike Jackson, Mayfield wasn’t around to be picked at 31. However, Mayfield’s agent came out and said that if the Browns didn’t take him with the first overall pick, the Pats would trade up to the number two slot to get the outspoken QB.

To do that, the Patriots would’ve had to give up a lot more than just their two first rounders. They had two seconds in the draft as well. I’m not sure two late firsts and two seconds would’ve gotten it done, but if it did, imagine a Patriots team with Baker freakin’ Mayfield.

Every impact Jackson would have on Brady and the Patriots would stay true for Mayfield, except the pressures would be multiplied exponentially. The number two pick in the draft waiting in the background would confirm the Patriots didn’t have much confidence in Brady lasting until he was 45.

If Jackson motivated Brady to play better, Mayfield would’ve had Brady leading the Patriots to an undefeated season. 

Another need the Patriots had at the draft was in their secondary – specifically cornerback – with the departure of disgruntled Malcolm Butler. Even with Butler playing in 2017, the Pats ranked 30th in pass-defense. And then of course when Butler didn’t play, well, you know what happened.

That’s a “what if” for another day.

The Patriots just as easily could’ve taken a cornerback with the 31st pick. Three corners were taken prior to the drafting of Michel, including Mike Hughes of UCF going to the Vikings one pick before. Available top corners for the Patriots at the 31st pick would’ve been Iowa’s Josh Jackson and North Carolina’s M.J. Stewart – both drafted in the mid-second round.

In reality, the Pats ended up taking a corner with their second-round pick, as they selected Florida’s Duke Dawson. Dawson was placed on Injured Reserve with a hamstring injury in early September and was activated on November 13th. Despite not playing against the New York Jets last Sunday, he could see time as a slot corner after Jonathan Jones struggled against Jermaine Kearse.

Unlike Dawson, both Jackson and Stewart have seen lots of playing-time this year and have had pretty good debuts.

On another note, it surprised some that the Patriots drafted Michel with his Georgia teammate running back Nick Chubb still on the board. Chubb played over Michel in college, had better numbers and was more consistent. Some projected Michel to go before him in the draft because of his versatility while others thought Chubb would go first simply because of his better numbers.

Chubb ended up going at 35 to the Cleveland Browns and has made the most of it. His 663 yards rushing and six touchdowns rank 14th in the NFL. Even more impressive is that his 5.4 yards per attempt rank fourth.

Had the Patriots selected Chubb instead of Michel, not much would’ve changed. Like Michel, Chubb would thrive under the McDaniels offense. It’s unfair to make the assumption that just because Chubb hasn’t been injured with the Browns this year, he wouldn’t get injured on the Patriots.

The drafting of Michel has been a huge hit thus far and it’s the closest thing we have to seeing what the offense will look like once Brady’s gone.

But just imagine that with Jackson or Mayfield.