The hype train is gaining steam on Christine Michael after the comments from Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell. Those who have read this blog for a while know I see Michael as a Pro Bowl player once he gets enough carries if he can stay healthy. Coaches have talked about his explosive ability. What fans may not know is what that can mean in real terms.
Michael is different
Lynch is a terror out of the backfield, punishing any player that dares to stand in his way. That style of running, however, has led to fewer breakaway runs. Lynch is 13th among NFL running back since 2010 in runs over 20 yards (he has 24), despite having the 3rd-most rushing attempts over that span. The glory of Lynch comes less from breaking away for long runs and more from getting 3 yards when every other back on the planet would have lost two.
Robert Turbin entered the NFL with great size and flashy speed, but he has yet to be great at either grinding out the tough yards or breaking away for long runs. Lynch has been better at accumulating explosive runs (12+ yards) the last two years. Turbin gets one on 7.6% of his carries, while Lynch is at 8.8%.
Judging Michael after only 18 regular season carries would be foolish, but he did display an ability to create big plays on the ground at a much higher rate than either Turbin or Lynch. The sample size police can put their guns away; get back to me after he has a few hundred carries and his explosive rate continues to dwarf the other backs.
Michael made the most of his 2013 carries
Turbin had 77 carries in 2013 for 354 yards and a 3.4 average per carry. I project Michael to be a over 5.0 yards per carry early in his career. I’ll go out on a limb and say he will check in at 5.5 yards per carry in 2014. That is an outstanding number, but it is not completely out of the ordinary for promising young backs who are getting rotational reps. A guy like Michael Turner checked in at 5.9 and above early on before he became a feature back. Ahman Green, a guy who Michael reminds me of a bit, was at 6.0 as a rookie. If that big number turns out to be true, he would rush for 160 more yards than Turbin did last year if given the same 77 carries. If he took away 5 more carries from Lynch, and got to 10 carries per game, you are talking about 880 yards from your back-up running back. Sound ridiculous? Ben Tate, another player Michael reminds me of, piled up 942 yards on 175 carries (5.4 YPC) as a rookie in 2011 while sharing the backfield with an All-Pro back in Arian Foster.
Lynch has been a career 4.2 YPC player. Michael will probably eventually settle into a 4.5 YPC type of back. LeSean McCoy is up around 4.8 for his career and Adrian Peterson is at 5.0 as one of the most explosive backs in history. Michael finished second in the NFL in rushing in the pre-season last year and averaged 5.0 yards per tote.
Running back by committee
This notion that the Seahawks will use a rotation at running back flies in the face of their history. This was a team that had Justin Forsett and Leon Washington and then Washington and Turbin and never gave any of them more than 80 carries in a season. That works out to 5 carries per game. Washington got about 3 carries per game. When Turbin came in and got those 5 carries per game in 2012, Washington went down to just over 1 carry per game. This coaching staff does not like to split reps at running back.
However, if you look at Tom Cable’s history with the Raiders and the Falcons, he is not completely opposed to the concept. Michael Bush and Darren McFadden got over 110 carries in 2010 and 2011. Jerious Norwood got 100 carries in relief of Warrick Dunn during Cable’s tenure with the Falcons. What did not happen in any of these cases was a third running back getting more than a carry or two per game. This committee may only have two members.