Futures: Nick Chubb & Sony Michel

Futures: Nick Chubb & Sony Michel
Futures: Nick Chubb & Sony Michel
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Charles McDonald

The University of Georgia has been a factory for electric running backs. From Herschel Walker to Garrison Hearst to Todd Gurley, the Bulldogs always seem to have a dominant presence in the backfield. Things are no different this year, as the Bulldogs are putting two exceptional running backs into the draft in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Although both were highly productive players, they succeeded in different ways.

Chubb was the workhorse back. Even after his catastrophic knee injury against Tennessee in 2015, Chubb was able to carry the ball 224 times in 2016 and 223 times in 2017. He's a strong, compact, explosive running back who works well in confined spaces.

One of Chubb's best traits in traffic is his ability to explode through the smallest of creases for big gains. This allows him to be an extremely successful between-the-tackles runner.

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His decisiveness paired with explosive athletic ability made him a pain for defenses to bring down at the second level. When Chubb started to get rolling past the line of scrimmage, he consistently displayed the lower body drive and explosion to make himself a wild bowling ball in the open field.

This run in the SEC Championship game shows the acceleration, strength, and toughness that makes Chubb a coveted running back prospect.

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While Chubb clearly has the power and explosiveness to be a dangerous runner, he also shows a bit of nuance in his ability to set himself up for larger gains. He almost always gives himself a chance to create at the second level. When he gets to that point, he has been able to make defenders look like fools. The freakish athleticism he demonstrated at the combine routinely showed up in his film.

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Michel is a bit of a different beast. He's similar to Chubb in that he is not afraid to physically finish runs. Michel isn't as explosive through contact as Chubb, but he's a bit shiftier and has an easier time making defenders miss. Michel is the prototypical slashing back who can thrive in zone schemes. Even though his game is predicated on jukes and spins, he's not a dancer like other elusive running backs. Michel makes a cut and goes; he only goes horizontal as a means to stay vertical.

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Michel's traits make him an excellent inside zone runner. He gets skinny through the gap, runs over the strong safety playing the alley, jukes the free safety as he finds daylight, and aggressively finishes the run to maximize his potential yardage on the play. Michel was never asked to be "the guy" for Georgia (though he did carry the load when Chubb went down in 2015), but he has definitely shown the traits and skills to be heavy contributor for an NFL offense.

Receiving ability is the one area where Michel definitely has an edge over Chubb. Michel had 64 catches in his college career to Chubb's 31. Chubb only caught four passes last season for 30 yards. Michel is a bit better as a route-runner and occasionally shows good ball skills on poorly placed places. His ability as a receiver is probably why his name is being linked towards the end of the first round more than Chubb's is. The passing game is supreme; backs who can catch the ball are going to be valued than backs who can't (or, in Chubb's case, haven't been given the opportunity to).

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Here's what FO's Nathan Forster had to say about the dynamic duo in his BackCAST writeup:

Nick Chubb and Sony Michel shared the same backfield at the University of Georgia, and so it makes sense to consider the two running backs together. Scouts, Inc. values Michel as a first-to-second rounder and Chubb as a second-to-third rounder. BackCAST, however, thinks that Chubb is a far superior prospect, as he outperformed Michel on all of BackCAST's metrics.

Chubb shouldered a much larger share of the workload than Michel and there is no reason to believe that any unusual circumstance caused Chubb to get more attempts than Michel. In fact, the disparity would have been even larger if Chubb had not missed the second half of the 2015 season due to a knee injury. Georgia's coaches, who saw Chubb and Michel in practice every day, clearly preferred Chubb. Michel did not get within 60 carries of Chubb's totals in any year when Chubb was completely healthy. Chubb was also more productive on a per carry basis.

Chubb is also bigger and faster than Michel. Chubb has a 13-pound advantage and had a slightly better 50-yard dash time (4.52 seconds versus 4.54 seconds).

Chubb is likely to be a below-average back in the receiving game, so Michel does have an advantage there, but Michel himself is not much more than average in that category. A smart team would probably avoid Michel in the first round and possibly take a flyer on the guy who actually carried the load for Michel's team.

That's a good summary on the differences between Chubb and Michel. Chubb was asked to shoulder the load for the Bulldogs, but Michel shows some traits that might make him an easier visual projection to the NFL. They'll both be studs in the NFL; it comes down to what "flavor" each NFL team likes in their running backs. Chubb is the physical freak, the bell-cow back. Michel is the flashy, highlight reel back.

If a team needs a big-play back but misses out on Saquon Barkley, Chubb and Michel make sense as fallback options; they'll be big producers in their own right.


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