Todd Gurley is garnering the most buzz heading into Super Bowl LIII, but he's not the only Georgia running back participating in the game and he's not the one who has scored five touchdowns in the highly-competitive NFL Playoffs. That would be New England's Sony Michel, who has gone over 100 yards in each game and who broke an NFL rookie record with those five scores.
Michel battled some injuries during his first season at the professional level and only appeared in 13 games, but he still piled up 931 yards and six touchdowns on 209 carries after being selected with the 31st overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Going that high in the draft might have surprised some, but Georgia head coach Kirby Smart sees it as a byproduct of what Michel was able to accomplish at the tail end of his career with the Bulldogs. In a day and age where players are choosing to sit out their team's final games because of the bad that might happen, Michel took the opportunity to increase his draft stock.
"You know, I wasn't so surprised as high as he went," Smart told NBC Sports' (Boston) Gary Tanguay. "I thought it would be interesting to see where he went versus Nick (Chubb) because their styles are so different. But in a case where so many kids don't want to play their last game because they're worried about injury, I really think Sony Michel jumped maybe 20 or 30 picks in his last two games. So you can say, 'well, I might get hurt' or 'I might go back in the draft,' well here's a guy that was probably going into the playoffs as a second-round, maybe a third-round pick, and he jumped all the way into the first, which we all know is a large margin."
Everything turned out just fine for Michel, who ended up being a high draft pick and will now play on the sport's biggest stage on Sunday. Smart has never been shy when it comes to talking about Michel's leadership ability. The fourth-year head coach believes strongly in player-led teams and can recall specific moments when he and his team got that from the talented ball carrier in big moments.
"The one that sticks out to me, and I don't know exactly what time it was in the game, but it was during the Alabama game," Smart said when asked to share a story about Michel. "There was a point in time where we had lost a little momentum. The offensive line and the offense was out on the field. We had kind of started to grind them a little bit. We were moving the ball three, four, five yards a pop and he looked in every one of those offensive linemen's eyes and he just gave one of the best three or four liners I've ever heard. Just passion, energy, you felt it was the real Sony. He really inspired those guys, 'this is all you got, give me all you've got for 60 more minutes. We're going to win this game.' He was very passionate and it was moving. I thought he affected those guys. He did the same at halftime of Oklahoma. Everybody talks about it but halftime of Oklahoma, we come in down I don't know how many -- maybe 30, maybe 20-something points. The offense had scored but we just couldn't stop them on defense. He came down to the defensive side of the ball and was very passionate about us stopping them. I told him, I said, 'You've got to go affect those guys. They're scared. They're a little intimidated.' He did an awesome job of affecting the defense with his energy."
Michel wasn't the only Bulldog to be selected by New England in the first round. In fact, he wasn't even the first. The Patriots had two picks in the opening round and instead of trading back like they've done in the past, they selected Bulldog left tackle Isaiah Wynn with the No. 23 overall pick. Wynn is on injured reserve after suffering a ruptured achilles during the preseason, and the fact that he went so high in the draft might have caught some off guard.
That probably wouldn't have been the case had everyone knew what Smart knew at the time. He and New England head coach Bill Belichick had a candid conversation about UGA's draft-eligible prospects before it all went down.
"He was very open and honest, I think like all coaches," Smart said. "There's 10 to 15 head coaches that I feel like I have a relationship within the NFL. They reached out to ask about some of our players and what was unique about Bill's conversation was he said, 'you've got one draft pick of these seniors you've got coming out, or juniors, who would you pick?' I won't divulge who I said, but he respects the opinion of college coaches and he also values football players. He wants to pick football players, not just combine guys, not just guys who put up great numbers. He wants to know all the intangibles. I think you see that with David Andrews as well where he values intangibles a lot."
Source: Jake Rowe | 247 Sports