Sony Michel, at least in his public utterances, is a pretty low-key guy, who doesn’t talk himself up or make waves. Still, one has to wonder whether he watches the public obsession over Nick Chubb’s health and says, if only to himself: Hey, everybody, over here …
Yes, you need more than one good tailback, but there’s still only one football, and when Michel touches it he’s pretty good. He rushed for 1,161 yards last year, despite not taking for Chubb as the starter until the seventh game of the season.
For some reason, Michel’s season got shrugged off. It shouldn’t have been. He became only the 10th Georgia player to surpass the 1,000-yard mark. (The others were Herschel Walker three times, Knowshon Moreno twice, Todd Gurley, Chubb, Garrison Hearst, Musa Smith, Willie McClendon, Tim Worley, Rodney Hampton and Lars Tate.)
There’s a tendency to think of Michel as just the poor man’s replacement for Chubb, not as explosive or dynamic. That’s also unfair. Last year Malcolm Mitchell was quoted as saying Michel was “one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen.”
As a freshman, playing behind Chubb and Gurley, Michel averaged 7.3 yards every time he touched the ball. That average went down to 5.8 last year, but that was still impressive considering that for the latter half of the season the defense could key on him.
Look, none of this is to say that Michel should start even if Chubb is fully healthy. It’s just to set up the point we’re about to make on why Michel’s importance to Georgia’s fortunes this season should not be overlooked.
Reminder: This is not a ranking of Georgia’s best players, so to speak. It is an evaluation of which players are most vital to the team’s success in 2016 based on their own talent, the importance of their position, the depth at certain positions, and the strengths and weaknesses of the team.
That brings us to …
7. SONY MICHEL
WHY HE’S VITAL: For one, it’s still not guaranteed that Chubb will be fully healthy and back to his old self. That sentence may send a shutter through Georgia fans, but unfortunately it’s a possibility that has to be taken into account. But even if Chubb is fully healthy by, say, October, he’ll be much better with help. A better passing game and improved run blocking would be more help – there’s still six spots left on this list – but it’s also been shown how much better an offense can be with multiple tailback threats. Chubb’s health would also allow Georgia to use Michel in ways that it started to as a freshman: lining up at receiver, different types of runs … actually, let’s let someone else elucidate on that point.
QUOTABLE: “I know Sony, he can do about everything on the field. He’s on special teams, he’s been at wideout. I don’t know, he could run the ball, he could power-back, everything. He’s a complete back. I think we complement each other well. He can go out there and wiggle around, I can go through you.” – Chubb, before last season
BEST CASE: Chubb’s health seems immaterial when Michel runs for 200-plus yards against North Carolina, then as the season goes on the two become the first Georgia teammates to surpass 1,000 yards in the same year. It could certainly happen: Chubb had 747 yards last year before his injury.
WORST CASE: Besides Chubb not returning, or Michel getting hurt too? It would probably take that for Michel not being at least as productive as last year, when he did quite well, all things considered.
FINAL WORD: If something happened to Michel, don’t assume that Georgia could just trot out Elijah Holyfield and get the same upside, at least this year. And there would almost certainly be a steep drop-off from Michel to anyone not named Chubb. Georgia’s offense could survive this season without Michel. But in order to maximize itself this year, it needs not just a healthy Chubb, but a healthy Michel.