What Sony Michel Brings to the Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins have signed running back Sony Michel, and his role is one the team was desperately looking for.

The Miami Dolphins signed former Patriots running back Sony Michel on Monday. Following a brief stint in Los Angeles, the Broward Native will be coming back to play in his home state.

Miami Dolphins sign Sony Michel.

Following a solid first couple seasons in New England, 2020 was a rough year for Michel. Battling injury, he only played in nine games, racking up just over 200 yards.

However, when Rams running back Cam Akers went down, Los Angeles called about the struggling back, whose job was being taken over by Damien Harris. Michel was thus dealt for a pair of day three picks, and began to revitalize his career in Los Angeles.

Under offensive mastermind Sean McVay, Michel saw his role expanded. While he was mainly seen as a power back in New England, there were several skills that were uncovered in his game.

Outside Zone and Pass Protection

Rather than running between the tackles, McVay’s system (very similarly to Mike McDaniel’s), calls for more outside zone run. This put more emphasis on his ability to make quick cuts and find cutback lanes, which was rarely seen during his tenure in New England.

Sony Michel makes a big run.

Michel appeared to have regained some burst following his injury, and it showed in his speed. He was more decisive than ever, and was making quick moves, turning big holes into bigger gains.

This is crucial for a Dolphins offense that, under the aforementioned McDaniel, is basing their offense in the inside zone. They signed running backs Raheem Mostert and Chase Edmonds in free agency, but they both fit more niche roles, and Miami still needed an early down back.

Michel can bring exactly that. His mixture of power and a newfound knack for hitting the hole is a match made in heaven for McDaniel. Running behind a left side of new additions in Terron Armstead and Connor Williams should open up several lanes that Michel has shown the ability to hit.

Michel’s collaboration with Miami’s linemen won’t stop there. Coming from a New England scheme that emphasizes the little things, Miami’s new addition takes pride in his pass protection. He has shown an aggressiveness and, just as importantly, a willingness to take a hit to protect his quarterback. The Miami Dolphins struggled to protect Tua last year, and that could soon change with Sony Michel in his backfield.

Sony Michel makes a huge block against the Bucs.

The Bottom Line on the Sony Michel and the Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are clearly committed to the “running back by committee” approach, and they now have the backs to do it. The three newcomers join Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed, who have both shown spurts of starting-caliber production.

However, this doesn’t mean that the Michel pickup isn’t significant. While Edmonds and Mostert are talented, Miami was lacking an early-down back. With this signing, they now have someone who can run between the tackles and take the tough hits, while also being able to perform on outside-zone concepts.

Michel’s versatility and willingness to do the little things will come in handy for a Dolphins team that looks to be in win-now mode this season.

Free Agency Preview: Miami Dolphins’ Running Back Dilemma

Dolphins ATB breaks down the Dolphins’ free agency strategy in addressing their current problems at the running back position.

Miami Dolphins running back Myles Gaskin takes a hand-off from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa
Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

There is no doubting the Dolphins’ running game has been underwhelming to say the least for many years. Not since Jay Ajayi have the Dolphins had a running back that brought a degree of excitement to the fan base.

Mike McDaniel brings hope to many fans that he can be the one that restores a complementary running game to Tua and the Dolphins offense which heavily features the RPO.

The Brian Flores running back committee was hardly successful.

Category Dolphins’ RankingMike McDaniel’s 49ers Ranking
Rushing Yards29th 7th
Yards per Carry31st 17th
Rushing TD24th5th
20+ Yard Carries29th9th
Rushing 1st Downs27th8th
The 49ers achieved this production despite only spending $8.8 million on all of their RBs in 2021.

Despite this production, The Dolphins enter the offseason with somewhat of a dilemma at running back. At this time, Myles Gaskin continues to be RB1 on the roster.

Many fans are also keen to bring back Duke Johnson, whose positive play towards to closing stages of last season helped the Dolphins recover from their terrible 1-7 start to finish 9-8.

Salvon Ahmed has recently been tendered, and many people also regard Phillip Lindsay as being a good fit in McDaniel’s zone rushing scheme.

The Dolphins are heavily predicted to finally select a premiere running back in this year’s draft, with Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker III predicted to be key target of Miami’s.

There is clearly a need to improve at the position, but will it be through new additions in free agency?

Miami needs to be proactive and aggressive in bolstering their running back core this offseason.

Who may those additions be and what will they cost?

Raheem Mostert- Estimated $2-3 Million P/Y

Raheem Mostert is the somewhat obvious choice given his familiarity in Mike McDaniel’s running scheme. Despite a season ending knee injury last season, Mostert is predicted to make a full recovery in time for the 2022 season.

Over the course of the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Mostert rushed for 1,293 yards averaging 5.3 YPC, 10 rush TDs, 336 receiving yards and three receiving TDs. His vision and big-play home run speed have been key factors in his success, and would complement the Dolphins current RB core.

However, Mostert is nearing 30 and coming off a significant injury, which my affect his performance and overall value on the market.

Nevertheless, Mostert has been described as a McDaniel guy, and is largely considered a natural fit for Miami to help implement McDaniel’s running system in South Florida.

Leonard Fournette – Estimated $6.1 Million P/Y

Lombardi Lenny, Playoff Lenny, whatever you want to call him, he is another name that has been heavily linked with Miami in the past. While he is the more expensive choice, the Dolphins have the cap space to make it work.

Fournette has consistently produced throughout his career. In his five years in the NFL, Fournette has rushed for nearly 4,000 yards, 31 rushing TDs, 1,696 receiving yards and eight receiving TDs. In 2021 Fournette rushed for 812 yards, averaging 4.5 YPC and eight TDs.

Unlike Mostert, Fournette has only just turned 27 years of age. However, the toll on his body should not be overstated, with nearly 1000 carries and 239 receptions, mainly attributable to being the workhorse back in Jacksonville.

In a Dolphins’ offense that is predicted to be run first, Fournette could quickly become a focal point of that offense. Nevertheless, if we want to see Playoff Lenny, Miami needs to get there first.

Melvin Gordon- Estimated $5.2 Million P/Y

When the Denver Broncos jumped the Dolphins in the 2021 NFL Draft to select Javonte Williams, it may have paved the way for the Dolphins to acquire Melvin Gordon in free agency.

In his seven years in the NFL, like Fournette, he has consistently produced with over 6,000 rushing yards, averaging over four yards per carry, and 53 rushing TDs. Gordon is also a threat in the passing game with over 2,200 receiving yards and 14 TDs.

One area of concern is that with nearly 1500 carries and approaching the age of 29, is Gordon the right man for Miami to invest in? In his seven years in the league he has missed 14 games to injury.

The Dolphins had interest in Gordon during the draft, and again in 2020 when he hit free agency, but elected to go with the cheaper option of Jordan Howard. Look how that worked out… While he clearly remains a capable starting back, the time may have passed for the Dolphins to make their move.

Younger Options?

If there are concerns as to the age and long-term durability of the above mentioned players, then the following players may be an alternative for Miami:

Ronald Jones- Estimated $2.7 Million P/Y

Despite being largely replaced as RB1 in Tampa by Leonard Fournette, Jones has remained productive rushing for 2,130 yards over the past three seasons, returning 17 rushing TDs. Jones has averaged 4.5 YPC in his early career.

In 2020 Jones’ 978 yards on the ground were the 11th-most rushing yards among running backs in 2020. His 5.1 yards per attempt was good enough for  fifth-best in the NFL among running backs with at least 137 carries.

This came to be despite Jones playing an average of just 48% of snaps through 14 games; ten percent less on average than the 10 running backs ranked above him.

Jones is coming off a nagging ankle injury that he sustained late in the season, however, the biggest upside to Jones is his age. Jones is only 24 years of age, therefore has a lot of football left in him.

In a Mike McDaniel run scheme his career could swing in a positive direction, if he can establish himself as RB1 in Miami. He has a solid skill set with an ability to break off long runs at any time. Jones represents a low risk, with potentially very high upside for the Dolphins.

Marlon Mack- Estimated $2.5 Million P/Y

With the introduction of Jonathan Taylor, an MVP caliber player, Marlon Mack is somewhat the forgotten man in Indianapolis; largely due to the amount of time missed through injury. Mack suffered a season ending Achilles tear in week one of the 2020 season, followed by only thirty touches in 2021 in six games.

Mack broke out with the Colts in his second season, rushing for 908 yards and nine touchdowns — in only 12 games. In 2019 Mack followed this up finishing with 1,091 yards and eight touchdowns across 14 games.

Mack is only 26 years of age, and for the most part has missed the last two seasons. A one-year rental where Mack can prove that he can still be a lead back may be an option for both parties. Mack has a high ceiling, but his injury history should not be overstated.

Conclusion

Addressing the running back position is a key focus for the Dolphins this offseason. The 2021 core was underwhelming at best, but many fans wish to re-sign Duke Johnson and Phillip Lindsay. If so, the Dolphins may not wish to improve within free agency and instead focus on the draft.

However, many thought this would be the case in the past two seasons, and look how that turned out. The direction they go remains to be seen, but it will not be long before we find out. Fins Up!

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