ATHENS – Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are best friends, and I’m sure they honestly don’t care, but it’s going to be interesting to see which of the Georgia running backs is picked first in the NFL draft.
They’re also competitive with each other, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there might be a friendly wager involved.
I’ll say this: I expect both of them to be selected by the end of the second day of the April 26-28 draft, at least. And, regardless, I predict NFL success for both players.
The general consensus coming out of this season seemed to be that Michel will be the first of the Bulldogs duo to go off the board. The narrative is that Michel is the more versatile of the two backs.
That’s an assertion that Chubb doesn’t necessarily disagree with. He told me as much at one of the College Football Playoff media days. He said Michel was probably a little better catching the ball out of the backfield.
Statistics back that up. At the end of their Georgia careers, Chubb had 30 catches for 362 yards and 4 touchdowns; Michel basically doubled him up with 64 receptions for 621 yards and 6 scores.
But it’s not like Michel was a part-time flanker or anything like that. He had 9 catches for 96 yards and 1 touchdown all season, with the lone touchdown catch not coming until the playoffs.
And Chubb actually was utilized more in that fashion as a freshman while he was sharing time with Todd Gurley. Kind of forgotten from that season was that Chubb had 18 catches for 213 yards and scored twice via the pass that year. So, it could be argued that disparity was as much a function of role as it was anything else.
That is something I always liked about these two guys. I always thought they were at their best when they were interviewed side by side. That’s when their personality differences were the most stark. In case you weren’t paying attention, Chubb was the quiet and reserved one, while Michel was (slightly) more talkative and certainly more flashy from the standpoint of his alter-ego as rapper flyguy2stackz.
But they also were part of a mutual admiration society. Michel never begrudged Chubb always being the starter in the rotation. Michel joked that meant that Chubb had the harder role, coming out Saturday after Saturday against defenses that were jacked to stuff the run and would be selling out like a flea market on run blitzes.
“He’s the one that has to take all that contact,” Michel said last season. “He was softening them up for me.”
That trend was reflected in their rushing stats each of the last two seasons. Michel averaged more yards per carry than Chubb both years, 5.5 to 5.0 as juniors and 7.9 to 6.4 as seniors.
And that, ultimately, might tip the ledger in Michel’s favor when it comes to their draft prospects this spring. Without question, Michel arrives at this juncture with less wear and tear on his body.
Chubb had 740 carries in his career with the Bulldogs, while Michel had 591. And it was Chubb who had to have his left knee rebuilt after that awful injury in Knoxville in 2015. Michel has had his own share of twists, pulls and bruises. And he actually played in one more game (47) than did his roommate in college.
This much is certain: Together they made up a nearly unstoppable force for the Bulldogs. They’ll go down as one of the most prolific running back duos of all time. Separately, they finished as the second- and third-leading rushers all time at Georgia, with 4,744 and 3,638 yards, respectively. Between them, they scored 90 touchdowns, with 51 of those in Chubb’s column. Only Herschel Walker, with 52, had more. Wrap your head around that for a minute.
And that’s what NFL executives are going to have to ponder between now and draft day. Which one of these two goes first, and where will they be taken in the draft?
That’s anybody’s guess. The theory is that running backs have been devalued by the proliferation of passing in the NFL through the years. But backs keep getting drafted in the early rounds, including the first.
LSU’s Leonard Fournette was selected with the fourth pick in 2017 and made good on it with 1,040 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns this season. Christian McCaffrey also was a first-round selection, and eight backs were selected in the first three rounds. Included in that bunch was Toledo’s Kareem Hunt, who led the NFL in rushing this season with 1,327 yards for the Kansas City Chiefs and has been named rookie of the year by several media outlets.
And we all know what Gurley has done for the Los Angeles Rams. Chubb and Michel’s former running mate had 1,305 yards rushing, 2,093 total yards and 19 touchdowns this season. Gurley said at the Rose Bowl he expects Chubb and Michel will make great pros.
As for their draft projections, they’re all over the board. Penn State’s Saquon Barkley is the consensus pick to be the first running back selected, followed by LSU’s Derrius Guice.
Chubb and Michel generally are projected a little behind those two, almost always close together and with no consensus as to which might be selected first. Of the different rankings I perused, Michel’s highest rating among draft-eligible backs was fourth by Draftwire.com, which had Chubb fifth. WalterFootball.com had Michel fifth and Chubb sixth, while CBSSports.com has Michel sixth and Chubb seventh.
But then, ESPNInsider had Chubb seventh and Michel ninth, and DraftTek.com had Chubb sixth and Michel eighth. Then there was ESPN’s well-known draft expert Todd McShay, who had Chubb fourth and did not include Michel in his top 10.
Wrote McShay: “Chubb rushed for more than 100 yards in 13 straight games before tearing several knee ligaments [not including his ACL] in 2015. He didn’t have the same explosiveness in 2016 coming off the injury, but he has quick feet for his size [listed at 5-foot-10, 228 pounds]. Right now, he projects as a Day 2 pick, but he could move up the boards if he can regain some of that agility.”
If you know Chubb like I do, I’m sure he’s busy regaining that agility as we speak. But Michel will work just as hard. These two Dogs spent the last four years trying to outdo each other in the weight room and on the practice field and in games.
Maybe one team will take a page out of Georgia’s book and draft both of these guys. Wouldn’t that be something?