Perhaps the mindset broadcast by the LA Rams organization that has dictated the running back by the committee concept was too firmly entrenched based on the LA Rams‘ available talent. After all, from the moment that second-year running back, Cam Akers, was lost to the season, we’d heard a consistent, if not constant, reassurance that the Rams remaining running backs would be enough. That happened when the Rams fell to five running backs. Then at four running backs. And as the team moved to trade for a veteran rusher, we had to believe that even three running backs were enough.
Well, now that the LA Rams have traded for running back Sony Michel, do we need to rethink everything? In a word, yes.
When the Rams were committed to the 2021 NFL season on the legs of Darrell Henderson, Xavier Jones, Jake Funk, Raymond Calais, and Otis Anderson Jr., the coaching staff had to allow for the discovery of which of the running backs would be the most productive this year. Perhaps even if they would prove to even be productive this year. So, the team committed to the group in the belief that someone would step up. The catch was: nobody knew who that hero might be.
The dynamics changed when the team traded for Sony Michel. It wasn’t a game of chance that pulled the trigger on this trade. There was no blindfold or dartboard involved. There was not even a name drawn out of a hat. This was a team-initiated deal, and that means that all of the same processes that help the LA Rams to enjoy uncanny success at developing undrafted players were employed to help identify and assess Michel’s fit for the LA Rams offense. This wasn’t a first come – first served situation. This was the NFL’s equivalent to star search.
Why did the Rams’ organization deal a 2022 sixth-round and a 2023 fourth-round pick? Well, simply stated, to the team, he was worth it. That should not be pooh-poohed lightly. The team knows the exact qualities necessary to complement the offense for the upcoming season. And the front office has done an incredible job of filling those expedited purchase orders levied by coaches due to injuries or roster shortages.
While he may not excel as a receiver, Sony has caught 26 of 40 passes thrown his way for 258 yards and a touchdown, good enough for a 65 percent completion rate. That may not seem like Pro Bowl numbers, but it was never why he was on the field. He ran and ran well.
After all, the true reason for the Rams’ intense interest was simply due to the fact that he runs effectively and efficiently. Despite the fact that he has been a rotational back through the first three years of his NFL career, he has rushed 535 times for 2,292 yards and 14 touchdowns. That is in 38 games and 28 starts. That works out to an average of 178 rushes, 764 yards, and nearly five touchdowns per year. Now keep in mind, this is while averaging under 30 percent of the offensive snaps.
To put this all in perspective, Michel has played as much in three seasons as Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott plays in one season. The Tennessee Titans work RB Derrick Henry twice as hard as Michel. While both are among the NFL’s best running backs, it does serve to illustrate that Michel comes with great NFL experience but does so on fresh legs. Will the Rams help him to hit career highs?
It’s well within the range of possibilities for this upcoming season. The Rams will definitely be targeting deeper routes to stretch the defense vertically. That alone should discourage their use of eight-in-the-box defensive fronts. The team will also have plenty of weapons to put on the field at any given time. From empty backfields to two tight-end sets, the variety of formations available will set the team to an advantage when they have the ball.
All Michel needs to do is what he’s done all along. Run the ball. Just run the ball. And yes, he can do that, and do it very well.