The NFL season is right around the corner, and most fantasy football leagues are wrapping up their drafts. Chris Carson and Sony Michel are both going at roughly the same spot in drafts, and both have similar season outlooks. However, when fully breaking down projected outcomes, it’s clear that Chris Carson should be your preferred third-round target instead of Sony Michel.
Fantasy Football: Draft Chris Carson Over Sony Michel
The Seattle Seahawks want to establish the crap out of the run and power the offense through Chris Carson. Last year, Seattle ran the ball at a ridiculous rate and appear poised to do it again. Even with Rashaad Penny’s draft status, the Seahawks are going to use Chris Carson as the heart and soul of their offense. Carson proved capable of serving in this role last year, as the former seventh-round pick recorded 1,151 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 247 carries. He could have a similar stat line again, as Brian Schottenheimer is going to once again run the ball more than any other team outside of Baltimore. Carson’s going to be at the forefront of that attack, which means that he probably won’t have many bust weeks.
The New England Patriots wrongfully earned a reputation as a running team last year. New England finished the season with the third-highest rush ranking in the league, but most of those carries were situationally-based. In close-game situations, New England had the 24th-highest rush ranking. This offense still goes through the right arm of Tom Brady rather than the legs of Sony Michel. Even in the playoffs, New England won thanks to Brady’s 42 pass attempts and 300+ passing yards per game more than Michel’s short-yardage touchdowns.
In the interest of a fuller picture, here's how the other playoff teams looked in 2018:
Total rush rank vs. rush rate rank on early downs in close-game situations
Eagles: 20th, 26th
Chargers: 19th, 18th
Seahawks: 2nd, 1st
Ravens: 1st, 3rd
— Cowboys Stats & Graphics (@CowboysStats) August 23, 2019
The Patriots win a lot of games, and Michel will probably see some garbage time carries. However, Michel has the ability to bust in any game where the Patriots don’t jump out to a huge lead. While the Seahawks seem inclined to use Carson as their starter regardless of game script, New England is in position to switch out their running backs. James White is the better pass-catcher (more on that later) and New England still has Rex Burkhead and Damien Harris on the roster. When all four players are healthy, this is going to be a committee approach. Burkhead can make plays as a runner and a receiver, while Harris has the ability to take short-yardage work away from Michel.
The Seahawks and Patriots are both hyping up their running backs in the passing game, but Carson is more likely to actually see the results on the field. Brian Schottenheimer said that he hopes Carson finishes the year with at least 50 targets. The Patriots, meanwhile, have noted that Sony Michel looks considerably better in the passing game.
Carson is more likely to see an increase in passing work, simply because Seattle doesn’t have any other reliable receivers outside of Tyler Lockett. D.K. Metcalf and David Moore are hurt and Jaron Brown is gone, leaving Gary Jennings, Malik Turner, and John Ursua as Seattle’s top receiving threats. Based on all available information, these players are simply not ready for these expanded roles. Seattle is going to need Carson to move the chains, both on the ground and through the air.
The Patriots might increase Michel’s target share, but it won’t be by much. Even if Sony Michel improves as a pass-catcher, he’s never going to be better at it than James White. White is one of the NFL’s top receiving backs and should remain a key part of New England’s offense. Additionally, the Patriots receiving core looks a lot better in 2019 than they did in 2018. Even without a hobbled Rob Gronkowski, New England has Josh Gordon coming back to pair alongside Julian Edelman. Demaryius Thomas should be back in New England before long, and Jakobi Meyers looked great in the preseason. Even if N’Keal Harry can’t get on the field soon, New England has plenty of better receiving threats than Sony Michel.
Everyone knows what running backs coach Ivan Fears said about Michel’s increased role in the passing game. However, reading the full quote slows down the Sony Michel hype train quite a bit. Fears talks about wanting the running backs to be “interchangeable” and says he expects “James [White] and the rest of the guys [to do] very well in the running game.” This implies a committee approach between the four capable running backs, which is more bad news for Sony.
Chris Carson, Sony Michel Injury Woes
Every single player in the NFL carries an injury risk, but some players carry more risk than others. At this point in time, everyone knows about Michel’s injury history. The running back tore his ACL in high school, has a degenerative knee condition, and missed parts of 2018 and 2019’s training camp with knee issues. He’s healthy for the start of the season, but it’s hard to imagine him playing a full 16-game season.
You might expect me champion Carson as the safer injury risk, but I won’t. Carson carries plenty of risk on his own due to his ferocious style of play. Carson takes every carry as if it could be his last and doesn’t shy away from contact. While the style of play is fun to watch and leads to extra yards, it also leads to injury. Carson only played in four games as a rookie and 14 in 2018. Neither player is a safe bet to play a full 16-game season, but neither player carries significantly more injury risk than the other.
Both players should be RB2’s with RB1 upside if they overachieve on touchdowns. However, Chris Carson is the better pick. Carson is going to have a larger share of the backfield than Michel, and the Seahawks are going to run the ball more than the Patriots. Additionally, Carson has a better chance of actually seeing an increased workload in the passing game.
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