If there is a story to tell with the 2013 running back class, it’s the high risk / high reward running back. Marcus Lattimore might be the next Willis McGahee, a terrific talent that had a once bright NFL future cast into uncertainty with an awful injury during his final season. Knile Davis seemed like a budding megastar in 2010 but missed 2011 from injury and disappointed in 2012. Christine (pronounced “Kristin”) Michael is a former 5-star recruit that battled injuries and coaches over the last 3 seasons. While each have tantalizing upside, each could end up leaving the board in the middle rounds despite that.
While I would have personally preferred to draft a receiver instead of trading for Harvin and all the future cap space that went with it, I love the trade for all the extraneous benefits it provides. It finally gives the team an “out” for Leon Washington. If the Hall of Fame takes kick returners, Washington is in it, but I never really felt comfortable with the crunch Washington put on our roster by essentially committing one of our few running back spots on someone who was essentially just a special teams player. Harvin made Washington expendable, and with it our team finally has a 3rd spot open for a real running back.
I suspect that “plan A” for this roster spot is a diverse and explosive talent like Denard Robinson. I’ve always thought that Robinson would be an amazing situational running back on day one, with the upside of being a return man or receiver down the road. Seattle has met with Robinson and he’s one of the few players I can guarantee our team covets. If Robinson isn’t in the cards though, it wouldn’t surprise me if Seattle gave a long look at Christine Michael.
Last year I made the mistake of comparing Robert Turbin to Marshawn Lynch. Both are big, fast, physical backs, but Turbin is more of a home run hitter than an evader. The zig-zag agility and light feet that Marshawn Lynch runs with are extremely rare for any back, much less for one with his power and determination. With that in mind, I wouldn’t compare Michael to Lynch either- although I do think his game compares very well to former Seahawk Ahman Greene. Green was 6’0″, 220 pounds, and ran a ridiculous 40 time unofficially. Michael is 5’10”, 220 pounds, and ran an official 4.54. On tape though, he is explosive and has the field speed of a 4.4s type player.
There are plays in every compilation I watched where Michael “wows” with his acceleration through the hole. This play against Mississippi State, for example (this video also included a Ryan Swope sighting). Michael relies on that burst so that he can be more patient waiting for the hole to develop, knowing that he has the burst to react rather than being forced to anticipate.
How explosive is Michael? Vertical jump is measured in part because it is often a strong indicator of short area burst. At the combine Christine Michael posted a 43″ vertical. That is not a typo. He did that in a 220 pound body. Unsurprisingly, his cone drill and 20 yard shuttle both ranked #1 among all running backs, despite posting an official forty time that was middle of the pack.
As you might expect, the speed, size, and power that Michael brings makes tackling him difficult, as if trying to catch a cannon ball. Michael doesn’t have the lightest feet, but he has excellent balance similar to Golden Tate or Chris Polk. That balance allows him to keep plays alive, sometimes for huge gains. This combination of traits allows him to break tackles with his body and continue for yards after contact. He has a lot of power and can push a freestanding pile similar to Marshawn Lynch.
Michael has a few minor flaws. He doesn’t make the sharpest cuts and only really shines with his maneuverability at higher speeds in open spaces. He’s not likely to be more than an average cutback runner. He’s more of a north/south guy than a “moves” back. Michael also has a problem with ball security (another reason for the Ahman Greene comparison). I didn’t get to see much of him as a blocker, but as a receiver he didn’t seem at all instinctive.
Really, if we are talking about his tape- this guy should be a first or second round pick, without question. The reason he won’t be is because of his reputation off the field. He was in the coach’s doghouse at Texas A&M and he even missed two interviews at the combine because he overslept. Seriously. In fairness, snippets taken from his interviews show a maturing young man that learned from his mistakes and considers his former A&M coach a “real good friend.”
He also has some injuries in his past- not surprising given his extremely punishing style. Those past injuries include a broken leg and an ACL.
These issues press a first round talent into the middle round range. General managers tend to view draft picks as business decisions, and it’s very common to see outstanding talents fall disproportionately far because of high risk- especially if we’re talking character risk.
In a year that figures to have some very exciting options in the middle rounds at running back, Christine Michael is my favorite. He may not be a complete back, yet, but he also possesses mega-star upside in Tom Cable’s power zone running game. Seattle can afford the risk and I don’t sense Michael is a problem child too difficult for Carroll to manage.