Don't Believe in the Christine Michael Hype This Year

Christine Michael is rising up fantasy football draft boards, but does it make any sense for this season?

I love hip hop, especially from the early '90s. One of my favorite groups, Public Enemy, is known best for songs like Don’t Believe the Hype.

Second-year running back Christine Michael has turned into a pre-draft hyped sleeper of epic proportions. His teammate, Marshawn Lynch, took Chuck D’s "Fight the Power” message straight to Seahawks management in holding out, demanding more guaranteed money in his current contract. But that holdout recently ended with Lynch reporting to training camp on Thursday.

Regardless of the outcome, Christine Michael continues to be hyped, and has consistently been a single-digit round pick in fantasy football drafts this year. Is it warranted?

The Christine Michael Hype

According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Michael is being selected with an average draft position (ADP) of RB44, or pick 10.01 in most 12-team, standard-scoring drafts. For perspective, that's in immediate proximity to all the best rookie running backs not named Bishop Sankey, and immediately after proven veteran DeAngelo Williams. For broader context, this is around where his quarterback, Russell Wilson, is being selected.

When both offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and head coach Pete Carroll praised Michael earlier in the offseason, the fantasy football world noticed and reacted accordingly. Michael's draft cost continued to rise, and Lynch's holdout certainly didn't help.

What's the hype based on? For starters, ESPN’s Louis Riddick called Michael the most gifted running back drafted in the past five years, and the legend of his tape is mentioned as “drool worthy”. He’s viewed as big, fast, and agile, which essentially is the equivalent of a five-tool baseball prospect. An article by Dynasty League Football’s Rob Pitzer highlights why Michael's measurables are enticing to fantasy owners, aiding in this general hype.

So understandably so, Michael is getting more attention from fantasy owners. But now that Lynch is done holding out, what does this mean for 2014?

Marshawn Lynch: It’s Not About A Salary, It’s All About Reality

The reality about Lynch is that he’s been amazing over the past three years in Seattle. He’s led the NFL in carries with 1,002 from 2011 to 2013, and he's been quite productive with those carries. Lynch even had 65 touches for 288 yards and 4 touchdowns in three playoff games last year, including the Super Bowl.

Using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, here's how Lynch compares to other high-volume running backs (250 carries minimum per season), sorted by Total NEP:

YearPlayerRushesTotal NEPRush NEPRush NEP/RushSuccess Rate
2013J. Charles26068.5913.930.0546.15%
2013L. McCoy31468.2237.120.1251.27%
2013M. Forte28750.316.530.0241.46%
2013M. Lynch30120.924.810.0244.85%
2013R. Mathews28518.035.770.0242.11%
2013A. Peterson28016.027.590.0340.36%
2013E. Lacy2857.472.320.0142.46%
2013C. Johnson2797.28-12.63-0.0541.94%
2013A. Morris276-0.2-4.15-0.0244.93%
2013Z. Stacy250-4.92-10.41-0.0438.00%
2013F. Gore276-13.6-17.29-0.0640.94%

YearPlayerRushesTotal NEPRush NEPRush NEP/RushSuccess Rate
2012A. Peterson34842.3536.310.1043.10%
2012D. Martin32036.1010.180.0340.31%
2012R. Rice25733.908.650.0343.97%
2012M. Lynch31533.6019.920.0645.71%
2012F. Gore26124.1612.000.0545.59%
2012A. Morris33613.4810.850.0346.13%
2012S. Ridley29013.1111.250.0449.66%
2012J. Charles28410.362.700.0142.25%
2012S. Jackson2579.12-11.46-0.0442.41%
2012S. Greene2767.851.060.0047.10%
2012T. Richardson2676.81-17.80-0.0740.45%
2012B. Green-Ellis278-2.02-4.54-0.0241.01%
2012A. Foster351-3.31-6.68-0.0241.88%
2012C. Johnson276-15.09-19.63-0.0738.04%

YearPlayerRushesTotal NEPRush NEPRush NEP/RushSuccess Rate
2011L. McCoy27346.5725.710.0949.08%
2011R. Rice28945.04-5.22-0.0239.79%
2011A. Foster27930.79-3.60-0.0143.73%
2011M. Jones-Drew34428.06-3.01-0.0142.73%
2011M. Turner30114.193.440.0140.53%
2011S. Greene25412.331.210.0042.13%
2011M. Bush25611.37-16.31-0.0641.41%
2011S. Jackson2609.67-0.520.0038.85%
2011M. Lynch2856.121.530.0138.60%
2011F. Gore282-10.56-16.34-0.0639.01%
2011C. Johnson262-12.72-24.66-0.0935.11%
2011C. Benson273-20.04-22.62-0.0841.39%

A few insights from the tables are clear. First, Lynch has been consistently productive versus the field over the last three years, more so than any other running back in the league. And it really isn’t close.

But it's not just his durability. Beast Mode stacks up nicely against the other elite running backs as well, finishing fourth in Total NEP among high volume running backs in both 2012 and 2013. No drop off has happened. Keep in mind, Total NEP measures not just rushing metrics, but receiving as well. And because receiving is more efficient than running, some of the backs have their Total NEP bolstered by their numbers through the air.

From a rushing standpoint, Lynch has been elite. The tables above show a total of 37 running backs - there have been 37 250-plus attempt seasons since 2011 in the NFL. Among these 37 seasons, Lynch's seasons in terms of strictly Rushing NEP have ranked 4th, 14th and 18th. In other words, Lynch hasn't just been consistent, durable and reliable - he's been incredibly effective as well.

What All of This Means for 2014

This isn’t your typical Priest Holmes/Larry Johnson situation from fantasy days’ past. Unlike Holmes, Lynch has no recent history of significant injuries or decline in production, and unlike Johnson, it isn’t 100 percent guaranteed that Michael would step in and produce like a top-five fantasy running back in Lynch’s absence. After all, Marshawn Lynch has arguably been the best running back in the NFL over the last three seasons given his production and reliability.

Michael also has to deal with Robert Turbin on the depth chart as well, and overtaking Turbin isn’t the given, despite fantasy football owners' feelings.

There seems to be no reason why the Seahawks would need to go to a running back-by-committee based on Lynch’s productivity over the past three seasons, even with someone as talented as Michael waiting in the wings. At the risk of blowing up the ADP hype machine around him, Michael’s nothing more than a highly-talented handcuff for fantasy purposes in 2014, as you can't just assume that Michael equals Lynch right now. And spending any sort of significant draft pick on him doesn't make a ton of sense at this time.

2015 Is a Different Story

Word is that the Seahawks gave Lynch $1.5 million more for 2014 (now up to $6.5 million guaranteed) without reportedly impacting 2015. He still maintains a $9.0 million cap hit to the Seahawks in 2015. Based on Lynch nearing the fateful 2,000 career carry mark (1,753 career regular season carries - ostensibly crossing that in 2014), and the team needing to pay quarterback Russell Wilson his market value deal, it seems likely that Lynch will be cut in 2015. This is especially the case with someone as talented as Michael waiting in the wings on a cheap rookie deal, which fits in perfectly with the Seahawks “next man up” philosophy.

So for all you dynasty and keeper league players like out there, the potential overpaying you should be doing would be for 2015, not 2014. In 2015, the hype will be warranted.