Size: Michael has nearly prototypical size for the running back position, at least in my opinion. He is listed at 5’10”, 220 pounds and essentially looks like a create-a-player on a football video game. He’s got a strong lower body as well as a strong upper body. When you draw up a NFL running back there’s a good chance he has the physique of Michael.
Speed: Michael may not have elite speed, but for his size his speed is more than good enough for the next level. He’s not a 4.4 flat guy, but running a 4.53 40 yard dash at 220 pounds is definitely impressive. He’s faster than you’d expect given his size, and you can see that when you watch him as some defenders expect to be able to take a lazy angle and all of a sudden he is by them. However, I don’t think he has the straight line speed to consistently get the edge at the next level and will have to make his money between the tackles.
Quickness: Michael has plenty of quickness, particularly for his size. He doesn’t stop and start as quickly as I would prefer, and his change of direction speed leaves a little to be desired, but overall his quickness is good and he accelerates quickly. He can make defenders miss or attempt poor tackles thanks to his agility, and that complements his strength and power effectively.
Running Inside: This is where Michael is going to have to thrive at the next level if he is going to be a feature back. Michael seems to be at his best when he can read the hole, plant and go. He runs with good pad level, has good leg drive and can spin off of defenders to gain extra yardage. He can “get small” to fit through holes and seams, and thanks to his burst and strength he is tough to bring down with arm tackles in the hole. He generates good leg drive and will gain tough yards. Seems to have good balance and a low center of gravity.
Running Outside: Michael’s lack of great vision holds him back a bit here, and when there isn’t an obvious hole I feel that he wastes steps and he tries to bounce things outside too quickly at times. Compounding that is the fact that he doesn’t have the straight line speed to get the corner whenever he wants and I don’t think he’s going to be a great outside runner at the next level.
Receiving: Michael may not have been used very consistently as a receiver, but I think that he can be an effective receiver if given the opportunity. I don’t think he is especially strong in this area, but he has the potential to be a reliable receiver out of the backfield if given the opportunity despite the fact that he catches with his body more than I would like.
Blocking: I personally believe Michael needs some work in this area of his game. He doesn’t consistently give great effort as a blocker and you can tell he would probably prefer to have the ball in his hands. Whoever drafts him is going to have to coach him up in this area, and unless he has a progressive offensive coach this is going to keep him off the field early until the coach trusts him to keep the quarterback upright as a pass protector.
Vision: I am not 100% sold on Michael’s vision. I think he misses seams at times, isn’t as comfortable when an obvious hole isn’t opened up, and too often I just see him run head-first into a crowd in the middle of the field instead of patiently running to the seams the offensive line has created. Perhaps this can be improved upon, but right now I’m not totally comfortable with his vision as a ball-carrier.
Ball Security: This was an issue for Michael in 2011 and there are times when he carries the ball too low which makes him susceptible to letting the ball get punched out or stripped. This is correctable, but it’s certainly a bad habit.
Overall: Michael is a bit of a frustrating player to evaluate because when you watch him you can see how much talent he has. He’s an impressive physical specimen, he runs well, he has good speed and quickness (especially given his size), but despite his physical attributes the tape just doesn’t match up with how much talent he has. Part of that is injuries, but part of that is that I don’t think he does all the small things that good or great running backs do. He hasn’t proven to be an effective receiver out of the backfield (16 receptions the last two years combined), he isn’t a reliable pass protector, he has ball security issues and most importantly I don’t think he has great vision. He certainly has a lot of upside, but given his issues with the new coaching staff this year (essentially didn’t play in the Cotton Bowl) as well as the lack of polish to his all-around game I would be concerned with drafting him early. In the 3rd or 4th round range I think his talent outweighs the concerns surrounding him, but in the 2nd round I would be quite hesitant to draft him. I think there is some bust potential with him because he has largely gotten this far based on his talent, and the only way he’s going to be a feature back is if he commits and works hard to improve as a receiver and as a blocker. Even then he might not live up to his potential because of his unfortunate injury history (season ending broken leg injury in 2010 and torn ACL in 2011). He unquestionably has talent, he’s one of the most naturally talented backs in this draft class, but it concerns me that so much of that potential has yet to be reached. That will intrigue some teams, but more conservative ones will likely knock him for that. If you roll the dice on him you are either going to get a steal that makes everyone who passed on him feel foolish or you are going to get a back who knows exactly how talented he is and either couldn’t stay healthy or never committed to polishing his game.
Projection: Top 100. I think he will likely come off the board in the 3rd round. He’s got too much talent to fall much further than the beginning of the 4th, but if he does it will likely mean teams were turned off by his interviews. If there is a team that loves him I could see him going as early as late 2nd, but I would personally wait until the 3rd.