The once high-flying 2013 rookie who was once believed to be the heir apparent to Marshawn Lynch was rendered expendable when the Seahawks signed Buffalo castoff Fred Jackson on Friday. Michael, who saw his stock skyrocket in 2013 after landing in Seattle, was a hotly debated topic in the fantasy ethos as analysts forecasted greatness once Lynch finally retired. We even witnessed Michael being selected in the top-five in some rookie drafts with fervent owners fully believing the bold move would pay off in fantasy gold.
In the two years since that draft, Michael has registered 52 carries, 254 yards and zero touchdowns and as it became obvious that Seattle brass was all-out on the runner. His fantasy value nose dived as well. This past off-season, Michael has been a frequent trade piece to those coaches who are willing to take the risk-reward play. For whatever reasons beyond “consistency” mentioned as his primary deficit, the Hawks simply never saw the same tangible qualities the fantasy community did. To that end, Michael’s career now gets a reboot in Big D.
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Unsurprisingly, the hype train and Twittersphere both re-ignited when Dallas acquired Michael for a late round conditional seventh-round pick in 2016, showing that a faction of believers remain. In fact, our own Scott Fish quickly followed with a sarcastic Tweet of his own to help stop twitter from burning down:
What we know about Michael is he has good size and a second gear that shows well on tape. What I have always liked best and could not ignore when watching his collegiate tape is Michael gets to the line of scrimmage faster than most backs his size, with his shoulders square and in perfect position to take advantage of opening lanes. In fact, Michael is elite in this area. A larger back possessing this quickness to the line and the strength to get through it can pay dividends behind the right offensive line. And the “right offensive line” is just what he inherits.
What we don’t know is exactly why Seattle gave up on Michael. Cleveland was lambasted for trading Trent Richardson but has now been fully vindicated. Day-in, day-out in training camp and in-season, teams see performance and behavioral issues that we, the fantasy community, are not privy to. I have to assume this is the case here with Michael and the Seahawks. Advantage goes to the Hawks as a cut-above other clubs in talent assessment
Michael’s situation clearly comes down to the backs ahead of him on the depth chart. If any of them perform to any degree, Michael will likely not sniff the field in 2015. Beyond this season, anything is possible and therein lies his value. Not surprisingly, his value may be too high to touch him should you already own Randle and McFadden. Nor would I suggest an addition unless you have good depth at the position you’d be trading away. Michael wasn’t even able to overtake the pedestrian Robert Turbin or the rookie Thomas Rawls while in Seattle. There’s little present that makes me believe he’ll be able to overtake existing runners in Dallas.
So, what does Michael’s new uniform portend for fantasy owners and fellow Cowboys’ teammates? Outside of the running backs, there’s virtually no impact. But what about the current running back stable behind what is largely believed to be one of the best across the entire league?
Joseph Randle, RB DAL
It’s anyone’s guess as to which back will emerge as the best of the bunch even by mid-season. Randle’s lack of experience, Darren McFadden’s continued injury status and Lance Dunbar’s size all suggest there’s opportunity to be had for the back that emerges. For Randle, he’s been said to have the coaching staff’s confidence as the first back out of the gate in 2015. Other comments out of Dallas suggest there’s a timeshare ahead as the Cowboys say there will be a hot-hand approach to carries. Truth be told, this isn’t any different than at least a third of running back situations around the NFL.
Randle has the size, speed and power to pick up where DeMarco Murray left off should his production back up his ample mouth. He’s clearly, in my mind at least, the back to own even following Michael’s acquisition. McFadden has never been able to stay off the trainer’s table and Dunbar is purely a passing-down-only option. This isn’t to say Randle is a lock for production or even a lion’s share of carries over the long term. Just that he has an ‘opportunity’ to produce. For running backs, especially those not highly drafted in the NFL, it’s all fantasy owners can hope for.
Should Randle come out of the gate with great production, there’s every possibility he’ll hang onto the role and be an upside RB2 in fantasy. Should he not, the situation will likely devolve into the dreaded RBBC.
Darren McFadden, RB DAL
Much like Christine Michael, McFadden himself has a following. His departure from Oakland was just what the fantasy masses were hoping for. And a landing spot in Dallas was more than could have been hoped for. If DMc can’t be successful behind that offensive line, he’ll never be successful.
Even with Randle in the mix, McFadden will get his touches. Just as Randle has an opportunity to produce, so to will DMc. With no clear guarantees and only a very loose pecking order for early-season touches, if he can steer clear of the injury bug and run with a level of speed and confidence shown late in the preseason, he has a solid chance to gain carries and be the lead back. The situation between both Randle and McFadden is close enough to 50/50 such that to own one means that you should, at least attempt to, own both. That’s just the truth of the matter.
In the end, while Randle’s downside is limited more due to experience to that of McFadden’s injury plague, I’ll side with Randle. McFadden has just never shown an ability to stay healthy and produce well over 16 games.
Lance Dunbar, RB DAL
There’s enough value here that Dunbar should be owned in deep leagues. If for no other reason than the names occupying the depth chart alone, there is upside.
Dunbar is a shifty and elusive runner and has shown some ability to get physical when needed. Sharing the backfield with two much larger backs certainly relegates his role to a change-of-pace as the Cowboys will have no need to press him into early-down duty. But if he can chew up yardage in the passing game and show an early-season dynamic, he could hear his number called upon more often, especially if those ahead of him falter.
In all likelihood, however, Dunbar won’t produce to the level where he could be inserted into fantasy rosters, instead consuming one of those precious last roster spots while fantasy coaches wait for the situation to sort itself out.
Christine Michael is no more than a high-upside spin on the roulette wheel for those coaches with a good level of patience and pragmatic reasoning. And “pragmatic reasoning” is not a characteristic most Michael owners naturally possess. To that end, should you already own Michael, your best move is likely a high-valued trade to a smitten coach. If, however, you possess reasonable expectations and own one of the other two primary runners in Dallas, then by all means – spin away!
Follow me on Twitter: @DLF_Jeff
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