Christine Michael’s Fantasy Football Future: A New Hope

Pretty much everyone has left Christine Michael for dead in fantasy football. Does he still have a shot?

“It is a period of civil war. The Believers, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Haters. During the battle, rebel agents of logic and reason managed to steal secret plans to the Haters’ ultimate weapon, the recency bias, an armored argument with enough power to destroy an entire fantasy team. Pursued by the Haters’ sinister agents, Christine Michael races forward aboard his starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save his people and restore freedom to the football world....”

If that was the opening crawl to a movie, you can be darn sure I would go broke seeing it in theaters.

Much like the Sith believed they had crushed the Jedi Order, there is a genuine perception that Seahawks’ running back Christine Michael’s chances of becoming a valuable contributor in the NFL are done for. Drafted in 2013, he has gotten just 54 total opportunities (rushes plus targets) in his career, but I don’t believe he’s done.

Having done little to this point in the NFL, the public perception of Michael has driven down his average draft position in dynasty leagues outside the top-100 overall, and below the top-20 running backs. His cost has never been lower, which means this is exactly the time to buy on him. I don’t necessarily believe in Chosen Ones, but I can certainly see the force awakening in this dynasty asset.

I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing

It’s been just two short seasons since the Seahawks made Christine Michael the 62nd Overall selection of the 2013 NFL Draft. Yet, in that span of time people have started acting like still believing in him as a legitimate prospect is akin to some sort of sad devotion to an ancient religion. I say it’s far too early to count him out.

First of all, let’s examine Michael’s pre-draft credentials. Drafted out of Texas A&M as a 22-year-old senior, Michael had put together a four-year resumé that saw him only top 175 touches in a season once. This is somewhat bothersome, considering the fact that he shared a backfield with merely the likes of Cyrus Gray, Ben Malena, and Trey Williams. Here is a large part of the problem: of a possible 52 games in his college career, Michael played in just 40 of them. Injury derailed much of his college production, from a broken right tibia in 2010 to a torn ACL in 2011. What if he hadn’t been laid out?

The table below shows Christine Michael’s college production, prorated to account for the time he missed due to injury. We’ll assume the average game total of his two uninjured seasons (11) as our measuring stick for his injured years (marked with an asterisk). How would he have done?

ClassGamesRushRush YdRecRec YdTotal TD

I’ve got no issue with this line. Each year in actuality, Michael increased both his yards-per-carry mark and was entrusted with more and more responsibility by the coaching staff, seeing his per-game touches increase as well. In response, his yardage totals would also have been buoyed -- excepting only his senior year, which gets a pass, as the year after his ACL tear. Even considering the fact that he was rehabbing a shredded knee his senior season, he barreled in 12 touchdowns. Not bad.

Laugh It Up, Fuzzball

All of this happened despite playing second-fiddle to the unremarkable Cyrus Gray. Gray was utilized more heavily because his reception-and-speed profile fit the Texas A&M spread offense much more readily than Michael’s ground-and-pound skillset. Michael’s physical prowess is so much more impressive, though, and this is reflected in his spider-chart on MockDraftable, seen below.

A player in the 99th percentile of a trait would mean he ranked higher than 99% of all others players at his position in that trait -- the best possible. A cursory glance at Michael’s chart shows that he ranks among the top 5% of all running backs in Combine history in the agility drills (20-yard shuttle and 3-cone) and the top 10% in all explosiveness drills (10-yard dash, vertical jump, and broad jump). His pedigree apparently holds up flawlessly.

What about his production in the NFL to this point? Among lower-usage backs, does he still impress? The table below shows Christine Michael’s production via our signature Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which contextualizes the value of plays based on down-and-distance, and how much they add to a team’s chances of scoring. Let’s look at Michael’s ranks in Rushing NEP and Reception NEP among backs with between 10 and 50 carries in a season; what do we find?

Year# of RBRush NEPRush NEP/PRec NEPTarget NEP

While he hasn’t been a great receiving back, Michael has been fairly efficient and effective running the ball, despite highly limited touches. In fact, if we open it up to running backs with 100 or fewer attempts, he even had a better per-attempt Rushing NEP in 2014 than Ryan Mathews, Latavius Murray, Shane Vereen, Carlos Hyde, and Reggie Bush. Even though he hasn’t gotten a ton of work -- and thus has fallen out of our collective consciousness -- Michael is still making do with limited opportunities, just like he did in college.

Impossible To See, The Future Is

Michael’s team situation is ostensibly the only other reason why he’s plummeted this far. Since holding out last training camp for a new deal -- which boosted Michael’s value significantly -- veteran running back Marshawn Lynch signed an extension to his current contract that will keep him in Seahawks blue and neon green through the 2017 season. But how does the money break down? The table below shows Lynch’s remaining contract in terms of base salary, bonuses, guaranteed money, cap hit, and dead money if cut (numbers courtesy of Spotrac).

YearSalaryBonusGuaranteedCap HitDead Money

What this means is that Lynch’s 2015 contract will see him reap all $12 million guaranteed of his base salary and signing bonus -- which is prorated through the deal, but is easier to visualize this way--– and if Seattle cuts him, they would have a $5 million penalty (cap hit returned minus dead money). In 2016 and 2017, however, he has no guaranteed money remaining, and the Seahawks would recoup $6.5 million and $10 million in salary cap respectively by cutting him.

By this point, Lynch will be age 30 for the 2016 season and 31 for 2017. While I have written about the typical arc of a running back’s career in terms of both age and seasons, our own Joseph Juan also looked at a back in terms of career carries. What he found in terms of Lynch is pretty halting.

“Both [Lynch and Shaun Alexander] would cross the 1,800 carry mark during seasons in which their teams would make Super Bowl runs, falling just short of an NFL title. Following these seasons marking the apex of their careers… both of these backs would also lose key offensive lineman going into the next season (Steve Hutchinson for Alexander, Max Unger for Lynch)… In the face of the toll such a punishing playing style has likely taken on Marshawn's body, it's a fair question to ask how much longer he can keep up this elite production before he begins to break down like so many other running backs before him.”

All of this indicates that the end of elite-level “Beast Mode”-style production could be coming for the Seahawks’ current lead back, sooner rather than later.

Christine Michael turns just 25 this season, and he is still under contract through his age-26 season in 2016. When Lynch exits C-Link, C-Mike will be waiting to take his place.