The New England Patriots have traded running back Sony Michel to the Los Angeles Rams for what essentially will be a fourth-round draft pick. (Later updated to be two late-round picks.)
What a difference a day can make, huh?
It was seemingly inevitable the Pats would part ways with their former first-round rusher, whose inability to stay on the field ultimately spurred this decision. While Michel is currently is healthy, his extended absences have given a glimpse into what Damien Harris can do, and the preseason brilliance of rookie Rhamondre Stevenson also helped fan the flames.
The Rams were facing a backfield led by third-year man Darrell Henderson after losing Cam Akers to injury in the offseason. Just yesterday, Henderson’s thumb issue was considered behind him as he participated in 11-on-11 drills after getting a positive medical report of no structural damage. Prior to the injury, the Rams maintained they were going to roll with him as their featured back, sprinkling in untested backups Xavier Jones and Jake Funk along the way.
Regardless of whether there always was some intention to bring in a veteran to complement Henderson or the thumb injury set this in motion, the tandem will make a nice one-two punch.
Michel is a more conventional between-the-tackles type who has the ability to bounce on zone-blocking and can just barely wheel his way to the corner. Henderson, though, is a more polished pass-catching back, and offers a slight bit more juice.
Fantasy football advice
Interestingly, though, if the injury concern about Henderson is what motivated LA to acquire another back, why pick one who has missed 10 games in his first three years? Nevertheless, any fantasy gamer investing in either back must be at least aware of the elevated injury concern.
Both backs will be shielded by the strong arm of Matthew Stafford to keep defenders from stacking the trenches. This offense uses play-action passing as much or more than any team, meaning the running game has to be no worse than functional. It’s easy to assume it will be a pass-laden script because of the Stafford trade. Don’t be so easily fooled.
Neither running back is a central figure for dynasty leagues, and their long-term value really doesn’t change to any noticeable degree following the trade. Over the course of time, both profile as fringe starting lineup considerations, where ever they may land.
Owners who have already drafted Henderson should look to add Michel from the waiver wire as soon as their league rules permit a move. After all, Henderson has missed time with high-ankle sprains each of the past two years, including one that required surgery in 2019.
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For now, he should be treated as the primary guy and is likely to see the majority of the touches, if both backs remain healthy, but we’re talking something like 60/40 or 55/45 here. Neither back is likely to dominate the touches with any consistency, though a “hot-hand approach” is likely some weeks.
Henderson’s ADP will tumble from 3:10 as the 19th RB chosen down to somewhere in the Round 6-7 range. He has more appeal in PPR setups than TD-heavy leagues, and there is added early-season value in him already knowing the offense going in. He should net out as a weekly flex play.
Michel’s stock has only way direction it is going to travel. He wasn’t even being drafted in the top 62 backs, according to FFCalculator.com. He should see his placement rise into roughly Round 8 or so initially, but if the window to learn the offense were longer, Michel would find enough suitors to take him as early as the sixth.
Even though it’s likely Henderson’s job to lose, especially early on, once Michel learns the playbook in an offense that will indeed run the rock, he has a potential to be a touchdown-scoring threat. In a best-case scenario, he’s a weekly flex play with the occasional RB2 showing. Be patient, and linking the two backs together is not a bad idea.
New England Patriots fantasy football outlook
A quick look at this backfield’s loss of Michel means the starting job should be Harris’ to lose. He has faced injury issues of his own so far in his young career, but the third-year bull has Stevenson looking over his shoulder. The leash will be short for Harris.
New England wants to run, run, run, play great defense, and run some more. There will be opportunities for both Harris and Stevenson to offer fantasy utility, while James White remains the third-down back. His role was greatly diminished in 2020 after Tom Brady moved south. The loss of Michel doesn’t move the needle for White’s stock.
The biggest winner here is Stevenson. He has scored four touchdowns through the first two preseason games, looking every bit the part of an NFL-capable back. Harris has been put on notice, but that doesn’t make him ready to be sent to the pasture just yet. The Alabama product will be given a fair shake behind a quality offensive line.
Both backs will lose touchdown opportunities to Cam Newton. A move to Mac Jones at quarterback actually would help both of their fantasy offerings, even if it means more defenders closer to the line of scrimmage with greater frequency.
Harris is a low-upside RB2 for the time being, and he’s really even more of a No. 3 in PPR scoring. Stevenson, the wild card, is depth material for now, and he should be considered a handcuff of sorts for Harris. It’s tough to commit so much draft stock into this backfield, however.